"Breathe, Della. Inhale, spirit expands; exhale, spirit contracts. Later, you can add movement and tension to the breathing, but for now lets stick with the basics." Lenatta added these last comments more to soothe the girl with her voice than in the hope that she was listening. Della Flannagan gasped raggedly, as if breathing at all were a difficult task. The girl had once possessed a delicate beauty, but now she had dark smudges beneath her eyes and her face was thin and pinched. Strands of pale hair hung limply over her face but she made no effort to brush them aside.
Lenatta looked away, focusing her attention on the window in the hope that this would take some of the pressure off her student and allow her to relax. Dead leaves hit the glass with a noise like a ticking clock. Autumn was preparing the stage for the beginning of winter.
"I think that's plenty for now, Della. You should rest for awhile."
"No! I can do it. Let me try again." Della's eyes had been closed in concentration but now she looked up at Lenatta with the expression of someone who was drowning.
"All right, a little more. Let's change to a different position first. Legs are folded like so, spine is straight. Like this."
She wondered what her fellow Lodge members would think of her trying to teach the Zheng K'ai to a Sime, and a junct Sime at that. She had no idea if it would even work for them. It was designed by and for Gens, Gens who felt that any effect their nager had on Simes was a trivial side-effect—one that might be useful for determining who was ready for the Inner Circle, but other than that, was not germane to the main goal of developing spiritual strength.
She hadn't asked any of them about it, although she respected their opinions on other topics. Garrett had initially been the one to encourage her to try this. He was in charge of the ward because it fell under the medical section, though in most cases there would have been a separate coordinator for the ward. But Garrett left the position empty because of his special interest in these patients, and when she'd idly wondered aloud if Zheng K'ai could help them with their struggle, he'd told her to go ahead. Lise Serault had found the idea intriguing and did not veto it. But Della was the first junct to take an interest in the training; the others Lenatta had talked to about it had merely given her sullen or indifferent looks. She had not pushed it, since she had no real reason beyond instinct to believe it would do any good.
If she could get Della to practice the techniques properly for awhile, then she could ask the staff Simes if they zlinned any difference. But despite the intensity with which she seemed to want the training, the young junct could not seem to concentrate on it. Probably she was too close to crisis. Lenatta only come up with the idea two weeks earlier, while walking through the ward on some make-work errand. Garrett believed in exposing all but the worst of the disjunction patients to Gen nagers, on the basis that an all-Sime environment was unrealistic and did not prepare them adequately for the choice they must make in disjunction crisis.
He had pulled her aside one day and told her with a rather feral smile that he had a temporary Gen shortage on the ward, and that Lise had recommended her to help out there until he managed to hire someone. It was not easy to find applicants with the rare qualities that would allow them to work safely among these patients, and the empathy to want to help them. Unfortunately, most Gens with the necessary skills were Tecton Donors, and despite the current glut of lower-order Donors, not many wanted to nursemaid juncts. They all wanted to work with channels. The Tecton did not always give Donors the assignments they preferred, but Garrett had no use for any Gen that didn't really want to be there. Lenatta had been intrigued by the idea, and had agreed to visit the ward a few times a week. She didn't need to stay long, just walk through occasionally, though the process was made cumbersome by the two security checkpoints that separated the ward from the rest of the medical section.
After she and Della had practiced awhile longer, Lenatta suggested again that they call a halt, and this time the younger woman just nodded without opening her eyes. Lenatta nodded to the renSime attendant who sat looking bored in a chair nearby. Della had reached the stage where she was not left unsupervised in the presence of a Gen under any circumstances.
"This is going to help, Lenatta. I'm going to practice on my own until the next time I see you. I'll get good at this, and I'll be able to disjunct. I can do it." But Lenatta thought she heard more desperation than confidence, or even hope, in the young Sime's voice.
To keep any hint of doubt from entering her nager, Lenatta thought of the scent of roses. Many of her best nageric manipulation images were olfactory, and she'd been told that the roses conveyed a sense of optimism. She murmured a few words of encouragement to Della and reminded her of their next lesson, unnecessary because the staff would bring her wherever she was scheduled to go. Then she went back to Garrett's office. The door was open, usually a good sign where his mood was concerned, but she stood in the doorway and waited for an invitation rather than just walking in as she would normally have done. Garrett was striding the length of his office, looking ten years younger than he had before his recent transfer. He stopped pacing and beckoned to her, and she stepped inside and closed the door behind her.
"Garrett, she's really not doing so good." It had been the subject of their first serious argument, which had taken place two days earlier. He'd been in need; perhaps he would feel differently about the matter now.
His smile dimmed a little. "Don't tell me you're going to start on that again. I've made my decision on the matter, if there was ever one to make. Shen and shidoni, I don't know why I ever told you about any of that in the first place. Too many people know already." He raked fingers and tentacles through his thinning hair.
Perhaps she had no right to an opinion on how he dealt with his patients. But they were her patients too, or at least Della was. He'd told her about the way he had intervened in the cases of a few patients over the years by giving them transfer, which he was explicitly not licensed to do. Lise, with whom he had a complex relationship, had signed the paperwork indicating that she had given these transfers. In a couple of cases Garrett had even acted as the target channel in disjunction crisis, and both of these patients had disjuncted successfully, though one of them had spent most of his time in jail after he was released.
"Lenatta, maybe I haven't impressed on you the potential consequences. It's not just me. Lise is an excellent channel with an unblemished record, and it would destroy her career as well. If I make a habit of doing things like that, sooner or later we'll get caught, no matter how many speeches I give the kids about solidarity between disjuncts. I may never do it again, and if I did the circumstances would have to be extraordinary. These were candidates that I felt had very little chance without my help, and also a good chance if I did step in. Also I had to believe that they would become valuable members of society, though that didn't always turn out to be the case."
"Don't you think all those things are true of Della? You've seen her test scores, so you know she's very bright. But she just doesn't believe in herself."
"I told you, I think that one has a good chance. I've been doing this for awhile, you know. If I'm wrong—we can't save them all. Your help on the ward has been valuable, but if it ever gets to be too much, I will understand if you need to take a break from it."
She slumped into a chair, defeated. Neither his transfer nor her subtle nageric urging had changed his mind, and she knew him well enough to give up now. "I don't see why they won't let you channel, at least in cases like this."
"Those are the rules. I don't like them and you don't like them. The Tecton cares shidoni about that, I'm afraid. But Lenatta, don't exaggerate the importance of my experience as a former junct. It does give me a certain amount of insight. But nonjunct channels can learn the same tricks if they want to. Some of them can do it very well, I can tell you from personal experience. Lise is one of them. For that matter, some Gens can learn a variation on the technique, even without being able to zlin. Want me to show you?"
Lenatta knew that he was trying to distract her from the argument, but she also knew that she'd lost that. "What do you mean?"
"Here, let me arrange for some privacy." He drew insulated curtains over the windows, then gave her a light, playful kiss. Garrett was particular about keeping their private and professional relationship separate, though he sometimes slipped up a little during the day or two after his transfers. Even then, he wouldn't take things very far, not inside the Center. The privacy must be for some other reason.
He leaned back against the desk. In what she though of as his visiting-professor voice, he said, "I've explained to you that there are at least two different aspects to the junct condition, haven't I? The junct pathways themselves, of course, are sealed during the disjunction process. But there is also nervous system involvement. Disjunction, I'm afraid, has no effect on that. That's why your typical disjunct—myself, for example—is not really, not to alarm you, but cases of true and complete disjunction are extremely rare. The few who do seem to have managed it tend to be a little vague on just what the secret is." He shrugged. "Everybody's different. Probably they don't know how they did it. Just luck. But for the rest of us, there's a psychological and neurological need—and I do use the term advisedly—that remains even after the selyn system has been restored to normal. Which brings us to the ugly subject of fake kills. One thing, if I teach you this technique, you must never—never—use it on a nonjunct. Or they could wind up with a similar problem, and for no good reason."
"Well, it's not as if I'm going to be giving anybody transfer." He'd made it clear that if she failed to keep things under control with a disjunction candidate, she was to shen the Sime rather than doing what she had done with Sephin. Sephin might well be able to overcome any complications of their unauthorized transfer, but it would be a different matter for someone like Della. It could ruin her chances for a successful disjunction, and if that were the case, she'd be dead within a year. So he had arranged for Lise to offer her training to be sure that she knew how to abort a transfer with the minimum of trauma to the attacking Sime. Of course, if she let things get to that point in the first place, she could not expect to be allowed back on the disjunction ward.
"As far as that's concerned, I should warn you, Lise mounting a campaign to pack you off to Donor school. Well, that's between you and her. Do you want to learn this?"
Curiosity won out, as he must have known it would. "Sure."
"All right. I'm curious to see how well you can do this. Your emotional control is almost frightening sometimes, and that's what's required for this. Stand here, facing me. I'll reach out and touch your arm. When I do, try to project fear, but don't pull away physically. That's very important because in the actual technique, you have to avoid pulling away nagerically. Ready?"
"Give me a minute." She closed her eyes. To project fear convincingly, she would have to focus on something that scared her. Remembering the mindless panic in Ava's face the day of Sephin's changeover, she knew that nothing in her adult life had ever made her feel that way. She would have to search back into her childhood, a time when emotions were more pure and uncomplicated.
Recalling early memories was one of the Zheng K'ai disciplines, though unlike some of the Lodge members, Lenatta had never managed to call up anything from before her birth. She would have to go back a long time to find anything that made her react with the kind of raw terror she was looking for. At first, she thought that nothing had ever frightened her that badly. But as she searched back into early childhood, she found a fear that was perfect to use for this. It had been strong, unreasoning, and it had specifically been a fear of Simes.
The school she'd attended at age seven had taught the same progressive values her parents believed in. Books that dealt with Simes had titles like Our Friends Across the Border and My Big Sister Has Tentacles. But when the teachers were out of earshot, the children sometimes exchanged other information, half-truths and opinions they'd heard adults express, but which other adults had told them were not nice.
When Lenatta had asked her mother if it was true that Simes could kill people by sucking the life out of them with their tentacles, she'd found the answer confusing and ambiguous. Nothing her mother told her had made it any easier to face the nights when she lay in her darkened bedroom, convinced that there was a Sime hiding just inside the adjoining bathroom, whose door was only a few steps away from her bed.
The time she had spent lying there, helpless against the fear that seemed to saturate her small body, had seemed endless. She allowed herself to exist in that moment. "All right, go ahead." Her own voice sounded distant, because most of her was still back in the darkened bedroom.
She felt a hand on her arm and the vague night fear blossomed into terror. It was the Sime, of course. It had finally come out of the bathroom. But she did not flinch away from the touch because there was a part of her that stood back and observed the emotions, not participating, and that was the part that controlled her body.
The hand moved down her arm, then closed, the Sime's steely tentacles wrapping around her wrist… and maybe that was enough. He hadn't said he was going to grab her like that. She opened her eyes.
"Don't move, Lenatta." The playful curiosity of a few moments earlier was gone. "I would not have believed anything could raise my intil like this less than forty-eight hours after… shen."
He released her. "If you could maintain that in transfer, you could be just spectacular at the technique. But I don't think we'd better play with this any more. I'll talk to you later, Len'ta. I'm going for a walk."
He strode out of his office without waiting for a reply. She closed the door and went back to his desk, where she sat with her face in her hands. This was not the first time the subject of intil had come up between them. On one occasion, when he'd seemed to feel she was tempting him deliberately, Garrett had rather acerbically explained to her the penalties imposed for illegal transfer. He'd concluded by telling her that he probably wouldn't find the experience all that satisfactory anyway, because she didn't really have the capacity to satisfy his need. She had been mortified. It wasn't as if she had done it on purpose. She'd just allowed her thoughts to drift, that was all…
This was different. He had looked shaken, in a way that had not been apparent those other times, when he'd retained at least a surface calmness even while telling her that she was provoking his need-based instincts. Nothing like this, where he'd fled his own office as if something were chasing him. She sat there for awhile longer before deciding to call it a day and go home early.
Lenatta could not concentrate on the selyn records ledger that lay open before her. Who really cared how many dynopters had been collected? And, what was taking them so long?
It had been over an hour since Lise had gone to the disjunction ward, along with Lenatta's Uncle Kenjo, who was now assigned to Shaygo on a semi-permanent basis. Lenatta hoped Ava didn't know her father was being used as bait in a disjunction crisis that day. Della was a renSime, and even if she failed, she wouldn't be able to hurt a Second-Order Donor. But Ava's phobia had grown worse after that day in the alley. She was in a special therapy program, but had not missed a donation. Lenatta was not sure quite what was driving her cousin. The city council's public-relations campaign over the last two decades had made most people think of donating as a civic duty. There were still quite a few holdouts, but they were regarded as backward by many of their neighbors. Still, Ava did not normally mind it if people thought of her as unconventional.
She looked down at the ledger, regarding it in the abstract rather than adding up the figures. The city's donation rate was above seventy percent, far higher than most out-Territory communities. The Gens of Shaygo far outnumbered the relative handful of Simes who were permanent residents of Simetown, and this selyn surplus was part of the explanation behind the flowering of the local economy.
But Lenatta knew that her father, who had come to think of Ava as a second daughter during Kenjo's long absences, would never pressure her if she decided to stop donating. If word got out that a member of his household was a non-donor, it might cause some minor political embarrassment, but Lenatta knew that family always came first with him. But perhaps it was for his sake that Ava continued struggling against her fears, or perhaps it was for her own father. Lenatta doubted that Kenjo understood the depth of his daughter's courage. He could not, unless he understood the depth of her fears, and someone who did what he did for a living must think of donation as a trivial thing. It was, compared to transfer. And that was something that she didn't think Ava could understand. From what she had observed since Uncle Kenjo had moved back to Shaygo, Ava and her father were still interacting on a basis of cautious courtesy. Lenatta wondered if Kenjo ever regretted the sacrifices he'd made for his career. Ava's mother, who'd been raised in-Territory, had grown tired of waiting for him to come home and had run off to Nivet with a sales representative from a carpet factory when Ava was three.
The door signal chimed, and Lise pushed the door open a moment later without waiting for an invitation. The radiant expression on her face made in unnecessary for her to say anything. She looked almost post, though giving transfer did not normally have that effect on channels the way it did on Gens. Surprising herself, Lenatta burst into tears, for once making no effort to control her nager in the presence of a Sime.
Lise walked around the desk and pulled Lenatta's head against her shoulder. "You really care about her, don't you? Be sure you go and see her tomorrow. It's not as though all her problems are suddenly gone now, and I think the attention you've given her has helped. Now she has a future to plan for, and she can use all the friends she can get."
"I'm sorry. I don't know why I reacted like that."
"Because you have a natural empathy with Simes in distress. It's called Donor's instinct. Lenatta, I've been meaning to talk to you about this. You really should be trained as a Tecton Donor. You're likely to end up in trouble otherwise, and even if you don't, you won't be happy while you're not living up to your full potential."
"I didn't think my selyn field was high enough."
"If you've read your file, you know it's climbed about thirty percent since you were initially tested, probably through exposure to Simes in need and from the transfer with Sephin. You enjoyed that, didn't you?"
It wasn't a question Lenatta felt like answering, because she could still remember the way it had felt, and it made her feel ashamed, because she could not really bring herself to regret that it had happened. But then, Lise did not really require an answer. She continued, "Your field strength is still a little below the range that's normally considered for training. But your nageric control is very good, extraordinary for anyone other than a trained Donor. Exceptions are made, and there are ways to bring your field up. I have no doubt you could make Third if you were accepted. I can't guarantee that you would be, but I can write you a letter of recommendation. I think there's a good chance you could get in on a provisional basis."
"Lise, let me think about this." Her emotional equilibrium was already wrecked by her worry about Della. Donor training was what she had wanted years ago, wanted with such passionate adolescent intensity. It had been hard for her to give up that dream, and she hadn't found anything to replace it until she discovered the Lodge during one of her aimless rambles through the more disreputable part of Shaygo.
But did she really want the same thing now as she had years ago, when she'd first established? She took real satisfaction in her accounting job, and felt that she was good at it. She didn't want to say so for fear of hurting Lise's feelings, but she wasn't at all sure she wanted to trade it for a life of following channels around, protecting them from the ambient and offering them neck rubs and trin tea. Perhaps she didn't have as much Donor's instinct as Lise thought she did.
"Yes, think about it." Lise squeezed her shoulder. "I have the applications in my office when you're ready."
Lenatta slept at home that night, or rather, she lay in her bed staring at the ceiling and occasionally drifting off into a light and dreamless doze from which she would wake with a full alertness that suggested she hadn't really been asleep at all. When she saw the first hint of gray in the sky outside her window, she got dressed and slipped quietly out of the house to go and watch the sunrise over the lake.
There was a carefully tended little park near her family home, featuring banks of greenery planted by Lenatta's mother and her friends. The riotous celebration of flowers that lined the walkways during summer were mostly gone now, all but the hardiest killed off by a night or two of frost. Lenatta was glad she'd worn a warm jacket but sorry she hadn't tied her hair back; the wind off the lake was fierce, and it would be a prolonged and painful business to brush out the tangles. She tucked as much of it as she could down the back of her jacket.
Walking carefully because the light was still dim, she cut through the park and followed the shoreline into a wooded area. The wind picked up bits of dust and small debris and threw them at her face with stinging force. She sought shelter in one of her favorite spots, where the roots of a dying tree formed a hollow. There she sat with her legs crossed, looking out over the water and remembering.
It was probably because of the nightmares that her parents had encouraged Uncle Kenjo to talk to her about his work. Once he'd brought a channel home for dinner, an older man who had been able to do the most marvelous coin tricks, and after that the idea of a Sime hiding in her bathroom had seemed silly.
The nightmares and fears had ended, and been replaced by the fantasies. She knew that her uncle had been taken aside and given a recruitment pitch the first time he'd gone in to offer himself as a general donor. For no good reason, she'd assumed the same thing would happen to her. She'd pestered Kenjo with questions and gotten him to describe techniques and training exercises, which she'd done her best to practice even though they really required an adult Gen's selyn field to have any effect. Still, visualization was valuable practice, and later on the experience had made her take very naturally to Zheng K'ai, which was similar in its emphasis on emotional and spiritual discipline. But a month after her establishment was detected in a routine screening, she'd gone back to donate for the first time, and had learned that her selyn field potential wasn't even close to what was required for Donor's training. She could still recall her disappointment and humiliation. It was the first time in her life she had tested below average at anything.
Now Lise told her it was possible after all. She wished she had thought to bring a scrap of paper so that she could list all the benefits of going along with Lise's plan along the left margin, and the drawbacks on the right. It was a method that had helped her with other choices in the past. Perhaps she didn't need the paper.
From observation, she had a fair idea of what Tecton Donors did. Trying to list the benefits of such a career change in her mind, she was only able to think of one. Transfer. Lise had known what she was doing when she'd held that out as an incentive. Hardly trivial, but it was the only positive consideration she could think of. Assuming she never went further than Third, which seemed likely given her late start and how far back she was starting from, she wouldn't even be making that much more money.
Looking back to her childhood fantasies, she realized most of them had revolved around transfer, an experience her uncle had spoken of with a glowing enthusiasm that she now understood. Also, she had been very taken with the idea of having a Tecton ring.
On the right side of the paper, there was the fact that Donors had to go wherever the Tecton sent them; if she went, she would probably not make it back to Shaygo very often. She imagined not getting to see Garrett for weeks or even months at a time, and was not sure whether even getting to give transfer would be adequate compensation for that. And she would miss Ava, and the rest of her family as well. And the Lodge. There were other groups of Zheng K'ai practitioners scattered here and there, but it was not widespread. Most people who tried a few classes decided it was too much tedious work for too little concrete result to be worth continuing. She would even miss the city itself—Shaygo, City of the Winds, built over the ruins of an ancient metropolis of unbelievable proportions. The city had a vibrant life to it that she had not observed in her travels to other places, and a unique personality that was a composite of the thriving trade sector and Simetown, the firm progressive hold on city politics, and the shoreline of Lake Storrow, so vast that the opposite shore could not be seen.
If there were a shortage of lower-order Donors, she might feel that it was her responsibility to do the work, if it proved that she was able to. But Third-Order Donors were not in high demand. They outnumbered the channels at the same level by almost two to one. Perhaps part of it was pride; if she were told that she'd suddenly developed the field strength to make Second or First, she might feel differently about the matter. Of course, those Donors were still recruited very aggressively, because the oversupply did not extend to the higher orders.
If she had a reasonable guarantee of being assigned to someone like Lise, that would also make a difference. She'd encountered a lot of different channels, though, and did not hold them all in the same esteem. Many of them were shallow and arrogant. And of the two Simes that she would most like to give transfer to, it was very unlikely that she'd ever be assigned to either of them. Lise was a second, out of her league and likely to remain so. And Garrett…
Non-practicing channels sometimes were assigned a Donor occasionally if their health required it, but Garrett did very well on channel's transfer, partly due to his perseverance about identifying which ones could meet his needs best, like Lise, and his subsequent insistence on being assigned to them. Even if he developed a sudden medical need for Gen transfer, and she were a trained Donor, Tecton policy would forbid them to ever be assigned to one another while they were sexually involved.
Adding up the pros and cons of Donor's training, she could see that it wasn't even close. She would have to explain to Lise that she wouldn't be filling out any applications. It had turned out to be an easier decision than she'd expected. Lise was not likely to give up easily, but perhaps Lenatta could make it plain with the aid of some nageric reinforcement that she'd made her choice. Lise was too powerful and too experienced for Lenatta to manipulate her, but perhaps she could manage to communicate clearly that she was serious.
But as she sat there in a half-trance, she had to deal with another objection. Her younger self, about age sixteen, was outraged that she would pass up a chance like this one. This was one hazard of stirring up the past; sometimes it was haunted. She calmly added up the columns a second time, coming up with the same result. The ghost of her younger self finally retreated, grumbling disconsolately, not placated but weary enough to return to its storage closet of the mind.
She sat for a moment looking over the lake and saying a final good-bye to the dream that had once colored her every waking hour. There had never really been a sunrise, just a gradual brightening of the overcast gray sky. She stood, muscles stiff and cold, and did a few stretches before heading back home at a rapid walk. She had the day off work, and now that the most pressing task had been completed, there was no reason not to go back to bed for a long nap.
Read Chapter Three
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