Heat, Wind, Ice & Rain

Katherine X. Rylien


Chapter Five:

(Part III of IV)

When she was admitted to Simetown by way of the Warf Gate, Lenatta didn't bother catching a bus. The little park where she was supposed to meet Dav was not on the bus route, and was within easy walking distance anyway.

There was some doubt in her mind whether he would actually be there. She kept recalling Garrett's comment about Drusilla; she and her friends are probably miles away by now. But when she got there, she saw him sitting on the same bench he had showed her two weeks earlier, zlinning her rather intently as she approached. As she drew closer he got up and walked away, and she took his place on the wooden seat. As planned, he had left a scrap of paper with the number 203 written on it, and she picked it up and stuffed in into her pocket, glancing down at the bench to be sure it wasn't painted bright green as it had been in her dream.

She wanted to get up and follow him, but she was supposed to wait for awhile. She did some breathing exercises to calm herself, hardly believing that this was actually going to happen. She'd more than half-convinced herself that she would find the park deserted. Pigeons gathered cautiously around her feet, pecking at something scattered on the ground. Perhaps Dav had been feeding them while he was waiting, or it might have been some earlier occupant of the bench.

There was no newspaper this time, that she might have picked up and pretended to read for a few minutes. She rested her arm on the back of the bench, and the feel of the rough wood beneath her hand reminded her of the storefront Freyda had showed her the day before. Was this part of the same pattern? Listening for inner guidance, she got no sense that it was. A different pattern, perhaps, inevitable since the moment she tore Sephin away from Ava in that alley.

She decided she'd waited long enough. She got up and walked over to the hotel with the green roof. In the lobby, a young Gen woman behind the counter looked up from a magazine when Lenatta walked in, then returned to it when Lenatta gave her a superficial smile and walked by. She found the stairs, located the room, and stood there in front of the door for a moment, filled with the sudden urge to walk away. Far too late, of course. And not really what she wanted anyway. She took another minute to steady herself, reminding herself she had to be fully committed to this, or it could turn deadly dangerous.

When she walked into the room she saw that Dav was standing by the window, watching the street below. Hopefully he hadn't zlinned her moment of nerves through the door. If he had, he gave no sign of it.

He smiled as she shrugged out of her jacket, and came to take it from her. He ran silky-smooth handling tentacles over her arms, winding one very lightly over her wrist and then releasing it. Her heart sped up and a curious pressure began to build, which seemed centered as much in her head as where he was touching her. Countless times, she had been touched by the tentacles of various Simes, for donations or medical exams or as part of social interactions. It had never affected her like this. It was all in the intentions, and her own expectations.

"Come over here and sit down." He'd pushed the narrow bed into one corner of the room, and he helped her find a comfortable position sitting there and leaning back against the wall. He sat next to her, facing the opposite direction, feet tucked underneath himself in a way that did not look very comfortable. But he seemed unconcerned about that as he arranged some pillows into a makeshift transfer lounge, his solicitude almost reminding her of the way a Tecton channel behaved toward a first-time general donor. The only evidence of need she could see was the slight distension of the glands midway down his forearms. Recalling some of the things Garrett had told her she must never do to him when he was in need, she reached out to caress one of Dav's ronaplin glands with her palm, drawing her arm under his in position for a transfer grip. Despite what he's said, she half-expected him to attack her. The idea didn't worry her particularly; she was better prepared for that now than she had been with Sephin, and that had worked out well enough.

Instead, he pulled away and captured her hands in his. "Not just yet. You don't have to coax me into this. You've probably gotten some strange ideas from those Tecton Gens who have to work at raising intil for the channels. I have no problems in that department, believe me. What I want from you is for you to need this as much as I do, if not more." Releasing one of her hands, he allowed one lateral tentacle to flick out and touch the wrist of the hand he still held, where it left an icy-hot trail of ronaplin.

Lenatta had learned a new word in Simelan recently, though not from Garrett, her usual tutor in the language. One of the Third-Order Donors had told her that one term for the Gen equivalent of intil was gemmil, the physical desire of the Gen to serve transfer. The Donor had warned her it was not a polite term to use in public discussion, but it was a useful term to know, because she could use it as an unspoken mantra as she gathered all the built-up nageric frustration of the past few months, fueled by every inappropriate thought she'd had to repress regarding Garrett, Lise, or any other Sime who caught her eye. The roots of these impulses ran deep, beginning with childish fantasies. She projected all this at Dav without holding any of her strength in reserve.

"That's the idea." He took her arms, coiling his handling tentacles gently around her wrists and sliding his laterals into place. "Make fifth contact whenever you are ready."

He leaned closer, until his face was a hands-breadth from hers, and waited. She decided to see if she could provoke him into completing the circuit. The feel of his laterals against her skin was so exquisite, so tantalizing, and she projected her frustration at him as well as she could. Surely she could outlast him at this.

Hyperconscious, smiling slightly, Dav held his ground. His breathing remained so steady it was barely perceptible and his grip on her arms remained firm but not constricting. Abruptly, she grew tired of making this into a Zheng K'ai exercise in self-control, and leaned forward to press her lips against his.

She could feel the beginning of selyn movement, half-remembered from the previous summer, too slow at first but then increasing. It reminded her a little of the night when she'd stood out on the beach during a summer storm, wind-driven droplets of water stinging her skin, the wind pulling her hair back like a flag. That had been an intense experience, but nothing compared to this. Every nerve was on fire, and sang with the joy of birth, and change, and destruction.

And then, like a storm, it began to recede. She did not feel as though something had been taken from her; she felt as if she had been filled with warm light, and was surrounded by it. It lay heavy against her closed eyelids. She would have been content to exist in that moment forever.

When Dav broke the lip contact, she slowly regained her awareness of the room around them. Dav released her arms, then turned to sit beside her with his back to the wall and his shoulder pressed against hers, one of her hands wrapped in both of his. He sat there for awhile, eyes half-closed and looking as well-satisfied as Freyda's tiger-striped cat after its meal.

Then he got up and walked back over to the window, where he gazed out for awhile without speaking. When he turned back toward her, there was something remote in his expression. It reminded her of a Zheng K'ai external called speaking from a distance. She could understand the wisdom of this. Even though she was not really attracted to him sexually, just now it would be easy to forget all about their ground rules. One form of intimacy could easily lead into another. Still, it hurt a little for him to look at her like that. Automatically, she hid this behind a projection of forced serenity, though she did not find it easy to call forth.

"I wish I could give you more time to decide about this, but I have to know your answer now. I am going to have to take my family and leave Shaygo in the very near future. Things have just gotten too hot for us here, with the recent escape from that—place where you work. Please say that you'll come with us." The remoteness receded a little.

She could feel anger scrabbling for purchase against the warm contentment of post-syndrome. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "The escape, yes, I suppose I'm expected to believe you read about that in the newspaper. Were you able to make much use of the information I gave you the first time we met?"

"Dru is my daughter." Now that she was looking for it, she could see the resemblance. The anger crept away. "As for the information, I suppose it was useful as background research. You told me nothing I couldn't have learned elsewhere. But when I was scoping out that place, and I zlinned you coming out of there at the end of the day, I knew I had to meet you."

This was something she had been wondering about. "How did you know I would agree to something like this? Most people would have yelled for the police."

"Oh, after awhile you develop a kind of seventh sense about these things. I think you knew too, though. Or do you get off the bus down by the Wharf with just anyone who asks you to?"

It was true, she had known. She hugged her knees tighter.

He took a single step toward her, then stopped. "So are you going to join us?" Something in his tone of voice told her that he already knew her answer.

"I can't." She'd anticipated this, and had made her decision ahead of time, but that didn't make it easy.

"You're sure?" He moved closer. "We could have this every month, you know."

She lowered her head to rest against her kneecaps, in the position called being an egg, though the image that she used was actually a stone smoothed by water. "Please go away."

He walked to the door and opened it. "I didn't mean to upset you. I really will miss you. That was… well, never mind. Perhaps we'll meet again some day." She didn't look up. She thought he had left, but did not hear the door close. "The room is reserved through morning, if you want to rest awhile." Then he did close the door. She raised her head, and he was gone. Her eyes filled with tears. She didn't want to rest. She didn't want to be alone with the emptiness she suddenly felt inside herself. She waited long enough that she didn't think she would run into Dav on the street, then washed her face and went out to catch a bus to the other end of Simetown, hoping that Garrett would be home, and that he wouldn't be upset if he figured out what she had done. If he threw her out, she could always go home to her family; they certainly wouldn't be able to zlin anything different about her. But it was Garrett that she wanted right now.

When she reached the door of his apartment, she turned the knob, half-expecting it to be locked. She had a key, but there would have been no point in using it. He only locked the door when he wasn't home. If he wasn't here, it was virtually certain he'd still be at the Center, and she could find him there. But knob turned freely under her hand. She opened the door and walked in.

He was sitting on the couch with a stack of papers, and looked up with an expression of surprise. Usually, she let him know in advance when she was coming over. She was suddenly sure that he would not want her here, and a feeling of dread settled into her stomach.

He set the papers on a low, ornamental table. "Len'ta, are you all right?"

No condemnation, no rejection. Was it that he couldn't tell, or that it didn't make any difference to him? She walked slowly over to where he was sitting, sat beside him and nestled up against him. He put his arms around her, and it felt wonderful. He gently stroked her back, and repeated, "Are you all right? If someone has hurt you in any way, I want you to tell me who." His voice held an odd combination of tenderness and soft menace. She shook her head, which was resting against his shoulder. Unable to think of a way to put her feelings into words, she said nothing, but just ran her hand along the side of his jaw.

When she'd sought Garrett out, she'd thought that if he would just hold her the way he was doing now, it would shut out the terrible loneliness that had come over her after Dav had left. But it wasn't enough. She moved her hand to his neck and could feel the rhythm of his heart beneath her fingers. Raw lust rose up inside her, and she made no effort to hide this or suppress it. She could feel an increase in his pulse rate as he lifted her chin and kissed her.

The couch was narrow and not very long, but neither of them suggested moving into the other room. Lenatta did not speak at all, fearing that to do so would break the spell somehow. The rapport between them was very powerful just then, but she was afraid it might be fragile, as well. Garrett followed her example and said nothing further until they had finished. Even then, they lay curled together in silence for awhile before he spoke.

"Did you ever tell Lise that you're quitting?"

"I left a note in her mailbox. If she hasn't seen it yet, she will in the morning. I'm going to call her, too." Lenatta didn't want to think about Lise, or anything else for that matter. She just wanted to lie here and soak in physical sensation, as if she were in a warm bath. The air in the room was cool against her bare back, but cuddling up to Garrett was like holding her hands up to the heat of a campfire. On a really hot day, the few degrees difference in their body temperatures sometimes made her feel as if he were burning up and threatening to take her with him, but now it was very pleasant, and she enjoyed the contrast with the cooler temperature of the surrounding air. She didn't even miss the feather-stuffed quilt in the next room, an impossible distance away.

"I think you should go and talk to her. How long have you been working for her now? Five or six years, isn't it? You owe her that much. She knows you better than I do, in some respects. She knew you were going to do something like this. I offered to bet her cash money that you wouldn't, but she didn't go for that, fortunately for me as it turned out. Is that why you don't want to face her? You're afraid of what she might say about your illegal, ah, activities? I can't imagine that she would report you."

He sounded faintly amused, and her relief was so great that she barely heard what he was saying about Lise. So he did know, had probably known from the moment she walked in the door, and it didn't seem to matter much to him. She tried to pull him even closer, though it was not really physically possible for her to do so. It was a good thing, given the width of the couch, that both of them were slight in build.

"I don't see why it should be illegal. It's absolutely none of anybody else's business."

"Please don't start proselytizing about Distect philosophy. I have heard it all before, and it's very tiresome."

"That doesn't address my point at all."

"Look, if I were making the laws I would not have you arrested for this, all right? If it makes you feel better, I agree, it's your own business, strictly between you and… whoever. Please just tell me you didn't subvert some law-abiding citizen who has no idea how to live outside the Tecton."

"No, I—"

"Good. I really didn't think you would do a thing like that, but it's nice to know for certain. Which is all the detail I ever care to learn about it, by the way. But back to the subject of the law. If you do go and talk to Lise tomorrow, maybe you should meet her at a restaurant a ways from the Center so you don't run into any other channels. There are some people who would take a matter like this very seriously, and many of them do work for the Tecton."

"Is it really obvious?"

"The average renSime on the street, who does not know you, is not going to zlin anything funny about you. By tomorrow, most of the post-syndrome will have worn off, but you're still missing a little more selyn than would be explained by a donation. I would stay away from the Center for a few days, if I were you. Some trained channels are amazingly perceptive, and can pick up things from across the room that I would have to make physical contact to see." He stroked her shoulder. "I agree, you can't come back to work at the Center if you are going to do this kind of thing. I will miss having you around during the day. You know, I didn't say anything about it at the time because you had to make up your own mind, but when Lise was trying to send you off to Donor's school, I really hated the idea. If you'd gone that route, though, at least I wouldn't have to worry about whether you were all right. I really don't want to lose you, Lenatta. Not to the Tecton, and certainly not to the Shadow Distect."

It hurt her to hear the sorrow in his voice. It was as though he were in the process of resigning himself to her leaving. It was frightening to her, because at the moment, she felt as though he was all she had left. "I know you said you didn't want to hear anything about it, but I have to tell you this so you'll understand. My, my transfer partner, I'm not going to see him again. He's leaving town." She hadn't meant to tell him anything about how Drusilla fit into all this. That might be harder for him to accept. But she suddenly knew that she had to tell him all of it. "Please understand, I did not know about this until tonight, not for sure. I certainly didn't know in advance that they were going to break that girl out of the ward. She's related to, to…" Transfer partner seemed like the wrong term, implying an ongoing relationship. She wasn't sure how else to refer to Dav. But perhaps she'd said enough that Garrett would understand.

"To tell you the truth, Len'ta, I was just as glad that she got away. Do not tell anyone that I said that, not even Lise. But we were in the process of murdering that young woman, and I found it… obscene. I have been party to some things I am not proud of in my career. But at some point you have to make a choice, decide whether you are willing to work within the system. I would have a problem with it if you had abused your position as a Center employee to help them set her loose, so I appreciate your stating clearly that it wasn't like that. Understand, I would have seen it through to the end, staying within the law even if it killed her. I hope that's something you can accept."

"It shouldn't have to be like that. I remember reading the original Tecton Charter in school. It was only supposed to be temporary, but nobody ever talks about that. I think 'transitory' is the word that was used. So when, exactly, is the process supposed to be complete?"

"Not in our lifetimes, I can tell you that much. Your class must have touched on the subject very superficially. A lot has been written on the subject, and I have to admit it's not a particular area of study for me, but I can probably dig you up some articles if you are interested."

"I'm sure they've come up with dozens of reasons why the system should stay the way it is—otherwise they'd change it, wouldn't they? Here's what I think should be done. Instead of making it illegal, they ought to teach people what they need to know to make it as safe as possible, maybe have some kind of licensing procedure. Probably it shouldn't be entirely unregulated, but I just don't think it's right that there should be laws against people following their most natural instincts."

"Lenatta, your Distect friends may have convinced you that the average renSime is suffering some terrible deprivation by subsisting on channel's transfer, but it's really not like that at all. If our channels could not provide transfers that are satisfying on a very deep level, the Tecton could not exist without becoming terribly repressive. It probably could not exist at all. RenSimes far outnumber the channels, and would rise up in a massive rebellion if they were as unhappy as all that. Illegal transfers would become common, rather than just being practiced by a handful of malcontents. The fact of the matter is, and I don't mean to hurt your feelings by saying this, but channels can do things for another Sime that a Gen could not even comprehend. I don't even have the words to explain it to you. Well, I do, but they're in Simelan, and I couldn't tell you what the words meant. It's not possible." She'd heard it all before. Like trying to describe color to someone who'd been blind since birth was the analogy most commonly used. She was irritated by his implication that he wouldn't want transfer from her even if it were perfectly legal, and if she had all the selyn in the world to offer him. She had caught him giving her looks, toward the end of his need cycle, that convinced her otherwise. But perhaps it was a subject better left alone between them.

"Well, fine. I don't mean to say that would be right for every Sime. But they should have a choice about it. I'm sure you're right and some would prefer to stick with the channels regardless, but I bet a lot of them would like to try it, at least. I'm sure there would be some Gens who would want to learn how, and others that would have no interest in it. I just think that anyone who wants to, and is willing to take the risk involved, that it's their own decision. The Tecton ought to be offering training, some modified form of what the professional Donors learn. Not putting people in jail."

"In an ideal world, I'm sure all those things would be enacted," Garrett said disinterestedly. "Perhaps someday they will be. But for the time being, Lenatta, it might be best if you did not go sharing these ideas around too freely. They may seem logical to you, but you would be perceived as very radical. I think your father might find it embarrassing. You might want to consider that, before you go skulking around down by the Wharf looking for another transfer partner. Because of your family, it would make a big splash in the papers if you got arrested for this, instead of getting buried in the back pages like it normally does. And Councilor Quinlan's political opponents would love to be able to point to a thing like that as the logical consequence of his faction's so-called pro-Sime policies."

"I don't know what makes you think I'm going to do any skulking, Garrett. It just sort of happened, that's all. I didn't go looking for it."

"So you were just standing there, minding your own business? That was credible the first time, Lenatta. Though in hindsight…"

Garrett stiffened suddenly and tried to curl up into a ball, though he nearly fell off the couch in the process. Then he relaxed. How could she have forgotten that it was his turnover day? It was always easier for him if she was there, though he did not have the extreme symptoms that some Simes suffered from. That surprised people who learned of it. They expected a disjunct, non-practicing channel to have more problems than a Farris on amphetamines. Most of them did.

She adjusted her position so that she could pull one of his arms up on her chest, and began gently rubbing his tentacle sheathes. She had observed that he got nervous and moved away if she happened to lie down next to him with her forearm resting against his, but he seemed to find this comforting in some unthreatening way. He would lie there contented while she rubbed his arms until her hands, despite the fact that she was not applying much pressure, eventually began to cramp. Then he would use the abilities that nature had given him to ease the pain in her muscles. It wasn't even illegal. He was licensed as a medical technician and it was perfectly permissible for him to use his secondary system for healing, though he preferred to work on the administrative end of things.

"It is so nice to have you here." He didn't sound happy, though she could blame part of that on turnover. "I really don't want you to go away. But you'll probably have to, you know. You still seem to think this Distect thing is some kind of game, but the only way you can do that and avoid getting locked up is if you go someplace where no-one's ever heard of you and live under a false identity."

"Garrett, will you stop it! I'm not going anywhere. I wish things were different, but I agree with you, the cost is just too high. I don't need to do it again. I know it's different for you, so maybe that's why you're having a hard time understanding what I'm trying to say to you."

"So you're telling me that you risked arrest and disgrace for something that you can get along fine without?"

She wished she could entirely dismiss his despondency as a phenomenon of the need cycle, but he did have a point. Right now, she could not imagine being tempted by some Distect Sime. She had the memory of that incredible experience with Dav, and surely that would be enough. But she remembered feeling the same way after her transfer with Sephin, combining a guilty gratitude that she'd gotten to experience it that one time with the certainty that once would last her a lifetime.

That feeling had faded insidiously over a stretch of months, but things hadn't really culminated until Dav had approached her. If not for him, these other instincts might well have remained dormant indefinitely. She had not been prepared to deal rationally with Dav's suggestion, but next time she would be ready. She could use meditation to prepare herself, to visualize controlling her own responses to such an approach. If she did this well enough, she might not set off the Distect seventh sense at all, and wouldn't have to deal with the situation in the first place.

Maybe this time, the feeling of peace would last. The transfer with Sephin had been over so quickly, driven by his desperate panic. Now that she'd had the experience of transfer with a fully mature Sime who understood what was happening and was in control of the process, surely that would be enough to satisfy any residual curiosity she might have had.

She caught herself wanting to remember what it had been like, and redirected her attention to Garrett. Apparently he'd picked up on some of what she'd been thinking about already, because his tentacles were moving around restlessly instead of lying sleepily against her skin as they did when he was truly relaxed. "I promise you, Garrett. I am not going to run off and join the Shadow Distect."

He pulled his arm away, and she got a sick, sinking sensation in her belly. If he didn't even want her to touch him anymore, that was a very bad sign. But then he rolled over and offered her his other arm, instead.


In the normal course of events, the next day should have been a work day for Lenatta. She felt as free and wicked as a kid skipping school when she woke, late in the morning, to see sunlight streaming through Garrett's window blinds and painting stripes across the quilt he'd pulled up over her before leaving for work sometime before dawn. Her good mood faded as she remembered that she had promised him she would call Lise first thing when she woke up. She probed around in her mind for pockets of residual sleepiness that might justify another cat-nap, and concluded that she was awake for the day.

There was a phone beside the bed. She didn't even bother to get dressed, but dialed the number from memory. It was best to just get something like this over with. But Lise was dispensing selyn and was not available to come to the phone. Lenatta left no message, but the clerk who'd answered the phone, a young woman Lenatta vaguely recalled, had recognized her voice and called her by name. She might or might not mention the call to Lise, depending on whether the rumor mill had kicked into gear about Lenatta's leaving the Center. In any event, Lenatta had found out the details of Lise's schedule for the day and could try again later. She just hoped the whole business didn't slip her mind, as things sometimes did when she didn't really want to think about them. She had a feeling it was the first thing Garrett would ask her about the next time he saw her, if he didn't find out from Lise herself first.

In the meantime, it was a lovely day and she had work to do, work she could do outdoors at the park near her house. She searched through the disorganized jumble on Garrett's bookshelf until she found a sheaf of blank paper, and took a dozen sheets, along with a pen and a book to use as a lap desk.

At the park, Lenatta sat with her back against a tree, not caring that the grass was slightly damp beneath the seat of her pants. She was tempted to just sit there and bask in the sunlight. She had left Garrett's apartment without doing any of her morning exercises, and while she didn't want to attract attention by going through a y'oa series, she sat and did breathing drills until she managed to pull herself down out of the vibrant blueness of the sky. Then she began listing ideas for her Underside Community House on a sheet of paper, trying to formulate an answer to Freyda's question about the details of her plan. Another sheet was intended to hold fundraising ideas, and she realized that she was about to pay the price for all her years of evading her mother's attempts to involve her in charitable activities. It was her mother she would need to speak to about this.

She got up and headed home, tracing the familiar route through the well-kept streets until she got to the low, sprawling house with the Sime Territory signs on each of the exterior doors, put there both for political effect and for the convenience of her father's guests from in-Territory. As she'd hoped, her mother was home, though she seemed distracted. "Lennie, dear, I was just about to head out on some errands. Are you going to be home for awhile?"

"Yes, but I had actually hoped you would have a few minutes, because there's something I want to ask you about."

"Of course, but if it's not urgent, later this afternoon would really be better. There's nothing wrong, is there?"

"Well, I've quit my job at the Sime Center."

"So I understand. I do want to hear all about that. I won't be gone long, perhaps an hour. Can you catch the phone, and take any messages for me?"


"Thanks. I'll talk to you soon, dear." She gave Lenatta a quick kiss on the cheek, then dashed back into her home office to make a phone call before heading out the door. Lenatta set her papers in the front room and headed upstairs, feeling rather at loose ends. She could get no further until her mother returned. Of course, it was not surprising that Tabbeth McKee Quinlan—Tabb to her considerable circle of friends—had a full agenda for the moment. At least Lenatta had caught her at home long enough to let her mother know she wanted to talk to her.

She glanced at the clock, and tried once again to reach Lise. The same clerk who'd answered before, and whose name Lenatta still could not recall, told her that Lise had finished her dispensary shift and come back to the office briefly but that Lenatta had just missed her, and was there a number where she could be reached? Lenatta declined to leave one, feeling obscurely that it would put her at some disadvantage for Lise to be the one to call her, perhaps catching her at a moment when she was not really ready to talk to her. She sat on the bed and rocked back and forth violently, dreading her coming conversation with the channel but at the same time wanting to get it over with. Next time, if Lise was not there, she would leave the number.

She got up and began, belatedly, to go through her morning y'oa. She was almost afraid to, but she had to do something to dispel this excess of physical energy. She was happy to find that she was able to perform the movements with the proper concentration, this time. The morning routine took only about five minutes, so she performed it twice and then moved on to other exercises, not stopping until she was out of breath and had begun to sweat freely. Then she sat back on the bed, and found that her mind was calmer.

She did not try for any deeper levels of consciousness, but was content to drift in surface meditation, rearranging the parts of her Community House plans in the hope that they would eventually form a coherent pattern. This was going to be a lot of work, and she had little hope of an overall vision of the result at this point, because she did not even see the shape of all of the major pieces. She caught herself wondering if they would take her back at the bank, where she'd worked years ago and where Ava was an assistant manager. In answer to this, her mind kept returning to the big, open room in the depths of the building Freyda had shown her, because something about that memory, something in the quality of the light, gave her strength and made her feel rooted.

She heard the front door close. So I understand, her mother had said. Interesting. She'd have to ask how the news had traveled so quickly. Her mother was fussy about personal appearance, so she considered changing out of the sweat-damp slacks and short-sleeved shirt she'd been wearing since the previous day, but decided she'd better get downstairs before Tabb got started on some other project. She glanced around for her papers, then remembered she'd left them in the front room.

Downstairs, Lise sat on the sofa, glancing over the book Lenatta had borrowed from Garrett's apartment. She'd already taken off her retainers and laid them on the seat beside her. Lenatta stood frozen in place for just a moment before sitting in a chair that faced the channel. "Lise. I was going to call you."

"But I wanted to speak to you in person, not over the telephone." Lise set down the book, which was in Simelan and not, Lenatta hoped, on some indelicate subject. Some of Garrett's English-language books were a bit odd. The channel looked grave, but not hostile. "I saw Garrett this morning, but he didn't feel like discussing this with me, and I would rather hear it from you anyway."

It had been one of Uncle Kenjo's early lessons; if you fear something, fleeing in an unthinking panic is always the wrong response. And that was what she had done, in her efforts to avoid confronting Lise. How could she have forgotten?

"Lise, I'm sorry to leave without giving adequate notice. I've left everything in pretty good shape, but I can—"

"I'm really more interested in discussing the state of your field." Lise's normally unremarkable hazel eyes seemed to look through Lenatta's skin and bone to conduct an unflinching examination of her brain and her soul. She summoned closing the borders and behind the mirror, fighting an urge to look down. Lise was making her feel about twelve years old, and the Zheng K'ai wasn't helping much.

"Did you come to arrest me on behalf of the Tecton?" She had intended it as a parry, but she began wondering about the exact legalities of her position. She'd been told that the signs gave the Tecton certain rights on her family's property, though this was normally not an issue. But she didn't really think that was what Lise had in mind. "I'm a Gen citizen of Storrow Territory, Lise. I'm not sure you can do that."

Lise narrowed her eyes. "What you are is the daughter of one of our more valuable allies in the local Gen government. I feel that you ought to leave town if you are going to behave this way. Failing that, you should at least move out of this house. You will be arrested eventually, I feel sure of it. If you are living elsewhere, that would allow your father at least a little distance from the ensuing debacle. Not much, and I'm sure it will be hard on both your parents on a personal level as well. I'm assuming you have not gotten around to discussing your new lifestyle with your family?"

Lenatta tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. "I guess Garrett really didn't tell you much." Hopefully, nothing about Drusilla. "This was a one-time thing, Lise. I'm sorry you don't approve, but—"

"Oh, good." The wide and sunny smile on the channel's face did not match her sarcastic inflection. "I am just so glad to hear you say that, it's what I was hoping for. In that case there is no reason for you to quit your job, and for me to have to find another accounts manager. You do the work well. I am going to give you another two days leave of absence, to meditate on whatever lessons you may have learned from all this. I will have someone update your records so they won't be too far behind when you come back. You will be making all your donations to me for the foreseeable future. One of my other channels might zlin something… disconcerting, it's not unknown in the case of reformed Distect Gens. I will be quite frank, I mean to sweep all of this so far under the rug that it will never come to light. Needless to say, if you're unable to donate due to illness, you will come and see me and I will provide you with appropriate medical treatment."

"I'm not—" Lenatta found herself moving automatically to counter the anger that must surely be rising up in her at being spoken to this way. But the anger was curiously lacking. She just felt stunned. Not a 'reformed Distect Gen', she had started to say, but apparently that was how Lise saw her situation now. If she protested, Lise might think it was the reformed part of it that she was denying.

She closed her eyes and pushed Lise from her awareness, taking a deep breath and holding it for three heartbeats before releasing it. Courtesy was no longer an issue, not when the channel had come into her house like this, without signaling or announcing herself—though probably not without an invitation. In hindsight, Lenatta thought her mother had seemed a little nervous as she'd left on those errands of hers.

"Lise, I don't think so. I'll go along with the donation part of it, fine, I don't care. And I'll come in and keep things in order until you find someone to replace me. I do owe you reasonable notice. But I have a project of my own to work on, and I think it's time for me to pass the selyn accounts on to someone else. I trust you'll start searching actively for someone with the appropriate background. I'm happy to sit in on interviews and give my opinions on the candidates."

"Garrett did tell me about your project." What else had he told her? And, what had Lise told Lenatta's mother? "It sounds worthwhile. Parts of it would fit very nicely under the Sime Center charter. He mentioned your friend Freyda's idea about the mini-center. It's not the first time we've gotten that request from the people down there. I think I could spare a Third for a couple of mornings each week once you get things set up, assuming you intend to post the building." Lise looked a little more like Lenatta's old friend and mentor now, and less like some vengeful basilisk out of legend.

"That was part of the plan, yes."

"Sponsorship by the Center might make it easier for you to get funding. I'll want to hear more details about what you have in mind, and we can discuss a possible role for the Center when I have more time. I should probably go now, though." Lise stood up and picked up one retainer, looking at it with distaste. "Help me with this, will you?"

Lenatta realized it was the first time she had ever seen Lise come into Gen territory without a Donor. She suspected Lise could have managed on her own, but she had a feeling that the channel was making some point by asking for her assistance—if nothing else, it was certainly a gesture of trust—so she took the awkward sleeve of metal and plastic Lise was holding out to her, and said, "You'll have to talk me through this."



Read Chapter Six

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