ICE & RAIN
On the day Lenatta found herself walking down Simetown's most exclusive avenue with her mother at her side, almost seven weeks had passed since her rendezvous with Dav. The wall here was painted with a highly realistic forest mural that blended well with the occasional, real trees behind the stately old homes. It occurred to Lenatta as they walked that they were not far from the place where a window that opened through the wall would have looked out on the Underside's tiny business district. But there were no windows.
Lenatta and Tabb were dressed rather formally, at Tabb's insistence. Lenatta was used to dressing for comfort, and was annoyed by the way the long, narrow skirt restricted her movements. But when they reached their destination and their hostess opened the door, Lenatta saw that she was not casually dressed either, and was glad she had followed her mother's advice.
Ettie Tarmigian was the matriarch of an old Gulf Territory family, known for textile and clothing manufacture and importing. She, two of her grown children and various other relatives and hangers-on had relocated to Simetown some years back to oversee their interests there. She was quite old, and it was evident as she led them into the house that she was beginning to lose some of that typical Sime grace to arthritis. Her white hair was perfectly straight and formed a tight cap against her scalp, and looked as if it had been cut just above shoulder level with the aid of a straightedge.
The front room was huge and dimly lit. The thick curtains covering the rather undersized windows were open, but the room had a cavernous, subterranean aspect and the light seemed reluctant to enter. The furniture was of a strange style, big and bulky and more elaborate than the simple designs available locally, and Lenatta thought that it must all have been brought from their former home. The entire atmosphere of the place had an alien, exotic feel to it, made up of a hundred details that did not seem quite right.
They sat and sipped tea that was already laid out on a low table, and Lenatta's mother did most of the talking. Lenatta had gone over her ideas for the project with her and they had decided together which would make the best selling points. For some audiences, Tabb had emphasized the vocational training and hunger relief aspects of the project. Here, not surprisingly, she emphasized the Sime Center's involvement, which had been worked out with Lise some weeks previously.
Ettie sat in a huge chair with two sweeping wings, which would have hidden her from view had the two Gen women not been sitting directly across from her on a matching sofa. She was tiny, like Lise, and looked almost lost in that chair, which could easily have seated two old ladies of her size. Three, if they hadn't minded being crowded a little. She divided her attention evenly between Tabb and Lenatta, or so it seemed at first. She would glance first at one, then at the other, then down at her hands or at a window.
Of course, a Sime did not have to be looking directly at a person, even when giving that individual their closest scrutiny. It was an idea that made some Gens, even those who had gotten past the idea that they were likely to be attacked for their selyn, more than a little uneasy. Lenatta was long since used to it; let them go ahead and zlin. She was usually capable of hiding or banishing anything she did not want anyone to perceive. And surely it was her imagination, this feeling she had that Ettie was completely focused on her, even when looking directly at her mother.
She imagined a cool blue calmness emanating from her core. You zlin very Tecton when you do that, Dav had told her, and surely that would be a good thing in this situation. It was a trick that had not gotten her in much trouble at the Center, unless she tried it at some particularly delicate moment when a professional was trying for a very precise control of the ambient. Ettie looked over at her and smiled.
Lenatta realized that her mother had asked her some question and was prodding her discreetly in the leg.
"Oh, ah, the sketches. Here." She'd had an architect come and take a look at the building, and had also learned that the property had reverted to the city. It was all very well for Freyda to talk about using the place without any official permission, but it would be hard to get funding on that basis. Lenatta's father had been helpful in getting permission to use the property, though it had embroiled Lenatta in a conflict with some of his opponents who seemed to feel the whole business was a pretext for deeding valuable property over to the Simes without asking adequate compensation .
She held the sketches up one by one and described the planned renovations, barely aware of what she was saying. While her mother had been talking, Ettie had glanced from one to the other of her visitors, but now she looked only at Lenatta. Or perhaps at the papers she was holding up, but Lenatta still felt sure that it was she that was the focus of Ettie's attention. Just her imagination, she told herself. Imagination or not, she had a feeling very similar to the one she'd gotten when Dav had been checking her out on that bus. But Ettie was a completely respectable citizen, the type Garrett had cautioned her against corrupting. She wasn't some Shadow Distect member. Of course, any Sime on the downside of the need cycle would start zlinning any attractive field within the range of their perceptions. And she had a strong feeling that Ettie was well past turnover. As for Lenatta, it was less than a week until her next appointment with Lise, so her field might be starting to look pretty tempting. She would just have to try not to take it so personally.
As they left the house a half-hour or so later, it was all Lenatta could do to maintain her cool blue façade. She imagined that it had crystallized to a hard, frosted shell, strong and opaque but not very durable. As she walked, bits began to flake off the surface of this shell. She discarded it and recreated the effect from scratch, feeling feverish from the effort as if her body temperature were trying to climb to Sime-normal. She wondered how her nager would appear to any Sime in zlinning range, and was glad that the street was empty enough to make it a moot point.
"I swear, Lennie, you seemed to be off in your own little world half the time we were in there, but you seem to have charmed the old dragon all the same. Maybe she was just in a good mood for some reason." Lenatta knew her mother was probably referring to transfer, and didn't mention her impression to the contrary, which might well be mistaken anyway. Tabb waved the check in her hand for emphasis. "I thought she'd probably give us a little something just to be polite, but this—this will put us right over the top. I think we need to have one last meeting about which of those construction bids to accept. You seem to have something of my little brother's natural charm when it comes to our tentacled friends, Lennie. I'll have to bring you along the next time I canvass down here. I always try to get Kenjo to come with me, but he's usually too busy."
Lenatta certainly owed her mother some quid pro quo, at this point. But this suggestion made her feel cold inside. As far as she knew, Lise had not given her mother much information about why she'd needed to speak to Lenatta so urgently, nearly two months ago. The subject had certainly not come up in discussion with either of her parents, and she didn't think her uncle knew either, for that matter. She was glad, but it did cause a certain awkwardness. She didn't see any polite way of refusing her mother the help she was asking for, and yet she thought if she had to spend much time with some renSime looking at her like that, she might have a nervous breakdown.
Later that day, Lenatta sat on her bed with her legs crossed, trying to meditate. She had the window open, and a cool breeze stirred the air and threatened to blow out the candle in front of her. It was a pleasant enough afternoon that she could have gone down to the lake, but she hoped to enter a fairly deep state of concentration, and it was not safe to do so in a public place. It would take too long to come back to awareness if someone disturbed her, and even if they meant her no harm, it was a terrible shock to rise out of a deep trance state before it ended of its own accord.
But the trance evaded her. She could not even recall the exact feeling she was trying for. She hadn't made it to many Lodge sessions lately. That might be part of the problem. She had kept up the practice on her own, but she knew the group sessions were a necessary part of the discipline. Some synergy happened at those sessions, something that could not be sensed directly or put into words, but which was very real nonetheless.
But she found herself increasingly impatient with her fellow Lodge members. She compared their disdainful reluctance to donate selyn with Ava's ongoing struggle, and the contrast did not make them look very good in her eyes. And it seemed odd to go there to grapple with problems that the other members would find incomprehensible. She wanted to start her own little Lodge in the back room of that building on the Underside, but things were going very slowly.
Under her mother's guidance, Lenatta had drawn up a budget, held meetings, formed a committee, and generally was starting to feel as if she was following in her father's line of work, which had never been an ambition of hers. Every one of her financial backers seemed to have some pet project they wanted the Community House to encompass. Her mother had told her that she'd better do what she could to make them happy.
On the bed in front of her lay more than a dozen scraps of paper, and on each of these was one of the possible functions the Community House might serve, from Changeover/Gen Etiquette classes to Zheng K'ai training to food distribution network. She was trying to fight the feeling that the whole project was spiraling entirely out of her control. She was losing focus, forgetting why she had begun the whole business in the first place.
But her mind had ideas of its own about where it would like to go. Her window faced east, so the light was dim and indirect, very reminiscent of the lighting in Ettie's living room. Her attention drifted from the scraps of paper she'd laid out, and she found herself back at the Tarmigian house.
Her mother was curiously absent from the scene, though in other respects it was very much as it had been in real life. She had her portfolio of sketches, but was wearing a light summer dress with a full skirt and three-quarter-length sleeves.
The candle flickered, drawing her back to her bedroom for a moment. She closed her eyes.
"Why don't you come over here," Ettie invited, patting the seat of the chair beside her. 'There's plenty of room for both of us, and I'll be able to see better, My eyes aren't what they used to be, you know."
Lenatta felt a little foolish for not thinking of this, and went over to sit next to the old Sime. "Here, this is the front of the building. The architect says it's structurally in fairly sound condition, but it doesn't look too good at the moment, a lot of peeling paint and other superficial damage. What we hope to do…" She trailed off in confusion, because Ettie had taken her hand and wound a pair of handling tentacles loosely around her wrist.
"Yes, and I'm sure we can talk about all that later, Lenatta. Right now there's something else I want to discuss with you." Lenatta could feel a dribble of ronaplin on her arm.
"Uh, are you really sure this is a good idea?" She tried to pull away, but her heart really wasn't in it. And she knew she was doing a poor job of concealing her response behind her Tecton shield of calmness.
"Don't worry, persons of my social class are not bound by all of those petty regulations." Probably no truth in that, but even a fantasy needed some rationale, however flimsy, to give it some semblance of fitting into the larger reality. Ettie continued, "I will have a word with that cheeky young channel. You won't have any problems with her after that, I can promise you…"
Lenatta's Zheng K'ai-trained imagination followed this scenario through to its logical conclusion, sitting with her spine straight but her head bent forward and her face hidden by her unbound hair. After she parted company from Ettie with a promise to meet again in another month, she sat unmoving for awhile longer, feeling as if she were at the focal point of a tremendous amount of energy, a sensation she'd experienced only a few times before after unusually successful meditation sessions. It was not the kind of experience that could be planned for, it just happened by some half-understood alchemy that was as much a matter of luck as anything else.
She had actually recreated something of the physical sensation of transfer. Not to the point of satisfaction, but what she felt was not precisely frustration, either. A kind of exultation, and the strong awareness of a maelstrom of energy swirling over her head. It was almost as if some of her selyn had actually broken loose, though she didn't think it was possible for that to occur. If she was wrong about that, it had better not be much, or she would be in big trouble with Lise. The channel would never believe the truth, even if Lenatta told her to her face. She'd be more likely to assume Lenatta had discovered a way to conceal a lie from her Sime senses.
She raised her head and opened her eyes. Fantasies like that were probably a very poor idea. She had to try to stop thinking about things like that. The next time she felt something like that coming on, she would try to find a way to get some exercise, something that would demand her concentration. She picked up the scraps of paper again and glanced over them, then closed her eyes again.
Once again, she reviewed the items on her list, recreating them from memory as best she could. The question of which she'd be best able to recall would be a telling one. She could see the bits of paper, but they were all cut into the shapes of puzzle pieces, like the one she had made to decorate the window of her former office earlier that year. And all but one of them were blurred, illegible. The a great wind came and swept all of the papers away, all but the one Lenatta could still read. She could feel the wind against her skin, and yet knew that it was not a real-world wind, at least in the tiny portion of her mind that was a detached observer. Though that part was smaller and less significant than usual. She was not far from full immersion in her own mind.
The one remaining piece grew larger and she passed through it, to find herself in another dimly lit room, the large back room of what would soon be the Underside Community House. A Zheng K'ai class was in progress, and about a dozen practitioners—Sime and Gen, male and female—moved through one of the forms with perfect synchronization. Her scalp prickled as if lightning were close by. Some of the faces she recognized, and others, she felt sure she would soon know.
So was this her missing puzzle piece? As soon as she formulated the question, the scene before her changed. An unassembled puzzle with dozens of pieces hovered in the air before her, and as she tried to examine them for some clue, they flew at her and pelted against her bare skin like cold kisses, like shards of ice that sublimated on contact or perhaps penetrated her skin. A booming, sardonic laugh rang out. Normally, the only voice she heard in trance was her own, but the laughter was unquestionably masculine, and did not remind her of anyone she had ever met.
The vision ended, leaving her alone in the darkness.
Her eyes flew open, and she was astonished to see that all her scraps of paper were still arrayed before her on the bed. Looking around the room, she felt as if she had never seen it before. Again she looked at the bed, and her surprise at seeing the undisturbed papers was as great as the first time. She gathered them up, the one that said Zheng K'ai training uppermost on the pile. She got a string from a drawer and bound them that way, then put them toward the back of the drawer.
She'd never gone that deep before outside of a group environment, and at the moment, she never planned to do so again. She still felt as if she had a foot in each world, as if she had only just barely made it back, or was still in the process of doing so. Cautionary tales were told in the Lodge about practitioners who had gone mad, although the feeling there was that it was a sacred and glorious madness. This was the first time she had tasted of such a thing. She did not want to lose track of the world around her and sit drooling in some corner, or wander half-dressed down the street shouting at people nobody else could see.
She stood up, wondering if anyone else was home. If not, maybe she could get hold of Garrett on the phone. She felt a strong need for human contact, for conversation, something that would reaffirm her anchor to the world outside her own mind.
Two weeks later, although the building was not yet open to the public, she had her first Underside Zheng K'ai session. She rode there from Simetown with Keeshore and his wife, Roshanne, in an enclosed runabout Roshanne had borrowed from the warehouse where she worked. The other two people present at the session were Freyda and Neddie.
Lenatta hadn't been sure about including Neddie, because Zheng K'ai was normally reserved for adults. If spirit was the same thing as nager, she could not hope to actually perform the techniques. But what harm could it do? The class would be small enough as it was. And an understanding of the techniques might help her later. Lenatta was certain that her own rapid progress in Zheng K'ai had been aided by pre-establishment visualization, even though what she had been rehearsing had been Donor's tricks rather than the art itself.
In a low voice, she asked Roshanne to zlin the girl. With two Gen parents, Neddie was more likely than not to establish, despite the indefinable look that made people feel otherwise. But Roshanne just looked at her with a rather frightened expression until Keeshore translated the request into Simelan. Then she shook her head. "No, she is still child."
After carefully inspecting the Sime Territory signs, Roshanne turned her back to take off her retainers. Her husband stood close by, probably taking measures to shield her from any disturbances in the ambient. Lenatta and Freyda had positioned a table near the entrance to the back room, and Roshanne left the retainers there and stretched out her handling tentacles, glancing cautiously at Freyda as she did so. Freyda seemed rather keyed up and was directing a non-stop stream of remarks at Neddie, who didn't say much in return. Lenatta wondered if perhaps her friend were a little nervous about being in the room with an unretainered renSime. Lenatta had not picked up any fear from Freyda when they'd been discussing the idea. Nothing but enthusiasm. But of course, if this merely meant that Freyda was good at hiding her feelings, she wouldn't be able to fool Roshanne.
She began the class with introductory exercises, stretching and breathing. She'd already taught Freyda a little, informally, and Keeshore had told her he'd done the same with Roshanne. Neddie had also been there during one of the informal sessions, as had two boys her age, who had begun competing for her attention by making loud and exaggerated imitations of what she was doing.
As they moved through the exercises, Freyda seemed to be doing something similar, making more noise than necessary whenever Lenatta reminded the class to be aware of their breathing, then looking at Lenatta to catch her eyes with a broad grin. Her sense of humor was one of the things Lenatta usually appreciated about Freyda, but not at the moment. Neddie looked bored, and Lenatta wondered if Freyda had dragged her there. Roshanne hid in a corner with Keeshore between her and the rest of the class. Only Keeshore had the look of serene concentration that Lenatta expected to see. She'd thought of inviting some of the Lodge members, but had decided to wait awhile before telling them anything about it, and now she was glad.
She turned away from the class so she'd be facing the same direction as the students as she moved into some of the more complicated maneuvers. If anyone had trouble following along, she knew Keeshore would help them. In front of her hung the sign Freyda had painted: Unity Zheng K'ai Temple. Lenatta had been in favor of calling it a lodge, but Freyda had been partial to the word temple. At any rate, something was necessary to distinguish it from the Zheng K'ai Lodge that already existed in northern Shaygo.
She was sorry to have only one Sime in the group. Of course, if she did start getting a variety of Simes, there was always the danger that she'd encounter one that had the same effect on her as Ettie Tarmigian. Fortunately, for whatever reason, Roshanne did not seem to be inspiring any such thoughts in her.
She turned back to face the group, moving smoothly into the mirror of the form she was leading, using her left hand when the students were meant to use their right. Neddie scowled at her, faltering in her movement out of confusion. Lenatta was heartened by this. It was a big improvement over the indifference she had exhibited before. Roshanne, a tall woman who tended to look rather ungainly when standing still, made the balance poses into visual music. Lenatta had long since given up feeling jealous of the unerring sense of balance that any reasonably healthy Sime possessed. Instead, she just admired it the way she did Keeshore's well-developed musculature, or her mother's long, straight, coal-black hair.
For a short while, the feeling in the room was an echo of the vision she'd had for the class. Then they sat on the floor for the closing meditation, and Freyda started back in with the loud breathing. Finally Lenatta suggested aloud, without opening her eyes, that everyone try to breathe quietly. Freyda did, but after that Lenatta could not attain any semblance of meditative state. She had probably hurt her friend's feelings, and for what? What was she trying to accomplish here? The only answer she could find for these doubts was the vision she'd had of this room. But now she was sitting here in reality, and the image seemed to have no meaning.
She meant to give her students the full time in meditation. Perhaps they could benefit from it even though she could not. But she caught her thoughts drifting back to another dimly lit room, and Ettie. Horrified, she snapped her eyes open and looked at Roshanne, whose relaxed features revealed nothing. Her eyes were closed, as was the case with everyone but Neddie. Lenatta brought her hands together gently to end the meditation.
Sitting across Unity Boulevard from the Sime Center, on the outdoor patio of the little café where she'd eaten lunch so many times, Lenatta sipped her tea and glanced over her notes from the Community House meeting two nights earlier. A notebook open to a blank page lay on the table, but so far she had written nothing.
The meeting had been chaotic. A number of local people had showed up and spoken at length, but rather than the calm and reasoned discussion she'd been expecting, many of them had made long speeches that were pointless or just plain incomprehensible. Some of the people there had assumed she was a representative of the Shaygo City Government, perhaps because of her last name. But she could do nothing to fix the streets. And she had not known what to say to the man who felt that the Sime Territory signs would attract gangsters and prostitutes.
It had been a mistake to come here to the café. Too many memories, stirring up too many doubts. From where she sat, she could see the small window of her old office, where she had been so certain of her place in a well-run machine that performed an important task. At the moment, she could not even recall why she had refused when Lise had offered to let her come back. And she could see the mouth of the alley where she and Ava had first encountered Sephin. It seemed to her now that she'd possessed a carefree innocence until that hot summer day, a state that had been destroyed by a taste of an addictive drug. She wanted to go back, for things to be the way they'd been before any of that had happened, but that was impossible.
She'd begun having dreams about Dav. In a recent one, he had smiled and held out his hands to her, tentacles outstretched. "I knew you'd come back to me eventually," he had said. She could recall no more of the dream than that. She didn't want to.
She felt very alone, because there was no-one she could discuss these things with. Ava certainly would not understand. Lise would see it as a sign of recidivism. And she didn't think Garrett would want to hear about this, either.
She hadn't seen Garrett lately, and she missed him. She called him on the phone at least once a day, but found herself making excuses when he suggested she come over. She could hear bafflement in his voice, turning to anger. The last time, he had hung up on her. Of course, he would be getting irritable now, on the downside of his need cycle. Which made it an even worse idea for her to go to him. He would zlin the feelings she was trying so hard to repress, and he wouldn't want anything to do with her. She couldn't bear to have him think that she was provoking him on purpose.
It seemed as if she was losing touch with all the things that had given her life meaning. She had not been to the Lodge in awhile, either. Perhaps that was why she could not clarify her thoughts enough to recapture the feeling of certainly and purpose that she'd initially felt about the Community House.
When she did try to meditate, her control over her thoughts was poor. Zheng K'ai inner training consisted first of learning the true nature of the self; and second, of controlling and changing any impulses that the higher mind decided were destructive. Lenatta wasn't having much luck with the second half of the discipline. Her meditations kept turning to transfer fantasies, and escape fantasies.
Sometimes she could not recall why she had told Dav no, when he'd asked her to go away with him and his family. It wasn't so much that she missed Dav, except in her dreams. But the idea of going off to some far-away place had begun to appeal to her.
Her mind began to play with the practical aspects of it. Could she find some Shadow Distect people if she tried, and would they agree to help her? Lise and Garrett were right in saying that she could not remain in Shaygo, if she chose that path. The only plan she could think of was to go back to the tea shop where she'd rendezvoused with Dav, and sit there sipping tea and radiating a low level of gemmil until someone came over to talk to her. She had no idea how to find a place like that in some strange city, or how to get fake papers, so she would have to start here in Shaygo and get help from the Distect network, or whatever they chose to call themselves. Her prospective partner might be a little put off by the realization that her main goal was information, but it wasn't as if she wouldn't be offering anything in return.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the steam rising from her teacup, pretending she was there in Simetown rather than at the café.
But what formed in her mind, rather than the colorful ambiance of the tea shop, was an image of a waterfront lined with pine trees. As the vision deepened, she could hear the cries of gulls, and the waves rolling up to the shore. It could almost have been Lake Storrow, but she knew it was the ocean, and that this was a place she could come to by seeking out the Distect way. It was a vision pervaded by a sense of peace and hope.
She opened her eyes, feeling shaken both by the fact that she had allowed herself to enter a full trance state in a public place, and by the vision itself. Up to this point, it had seemed clear to her that her inner guides were telling her to stay here in Shaygo and teach Zheng K'ai. When she had said goodbye to Dav, she had never doubted it was the right thing—not easy, but right. It was the right choice, wasn't it?
It was clear that she would have to return to the Lodge, whatever her disagreements with the other Inner Circle members. She was not finding any answers on her own.
On the day that she had the most profound spiritual experience of her life to date, Lenatta did not enjoy any feeling of great optimism as she walked to the Lodge. For one thing, she was sore all over from having practiced every day for the past week. And it was a gray, cold day, threatening rain, which did not do much to raise her spirits.
At least this would be a session reserved for members of the Inner Circle, and the emphasis would be on inward focus. Which meant that they would be sitting down most of the time. She had done a great deal of y'oa and forms recently, both at classes and on her own, and it did not seem to be getting her any closer to her goal.
When she arrived at the Lodge, her thoughts were troubled and anxious. Garrett had gotten her to agree to meet him at the Sime Center the following day, and she was not looking forward to it much. He had sounded so subdued and humorless over the phone when had asked her, "Is there any chance we can talk in person?" They had not seen each other for more than a week now. She hadn't been there for him on his turnover day, and she felt badly about that. She was terrified that she would lose him if she kept avoiding him, but she could not bring herself to explain why she had been acting this way, not even over the telephone.
So when she sat down to meditate, muscles cramped and sore from an excess of physical activity, she was not in a state of calmness that often leads to profound meditation. She wasn't even sure she wanted to be here. But she was, so she asked her question silently to whatever inner voice might choose to answer. Why couldn't she go to see the man she cared about so deeply, and just accept the fact that he was Sime the way she accepted his wicked sense of humor, or his habit of giving long impromptu speeches about any subject that interested him? It was part of who he was, but why did she have to be so focused on it, so—in a weird way—afraid of it?
Despite all the fantasies she'd had about Simes she knew more casually, like Ettie, she'd never allowed herself to pursue such thoughts about Garrett. If she caught her thoughts straying in that direction, she jerked herself out of it with a rude abruptness, forbade herself even to think about it.
But she still didn't know what she was supposed to do if he wanted to sit in the companionable closeness they'd both enjoyed so much in the past. Even when he had no interest in sex, which was generally the case once he passed turnover, he liked to sit with his arms around her, lightly caressing her skin. Surely this level of physical intimacy would make it impossible for her to conceal what she wanted from him. He would be able to feel it. And she knew what lay behind his anger, on those occasions in the past when she had done something to provoke his intil…
This time, instead of coming back to full consciousness to escape these disturbing thoughts, she dove deeper. And found herself back on the shore of the ocean. Before, she'd had a vague sense of being surrounded by other people, but this time she was alone. And it was not a Distect place, now, but hers.
She sat on a low cliff, looking out over the sea. There was a fire in the sky, and at first she thought it was the sun she was looking at. But it grew larger than that, and claimed her attention until nothing else existed and she was floating in a black void that contained only herself and the fire.
Drawn to it, yet fearing that she would be consumed, she watched the flickering mass of yellow-orange light. The flickering grew more pronounced, and she could feel wind against her face, threatening to extinguish the flames, fanning them to new brilliance. As time passed, their color changed, became blue and white, shining with a cold luminosity. The flickering stopped and she was looking at a massive sculpture of wind-tortured ice.
The analytical part of her mind, which had been paralyzed with the intensity of her vision, came to life then and recognized the cycle of heat, wind, ice and rain. Sometimes called the four seasons, these images were used in meditations for internal change. But this was more than a meditation. It was as though her eyes were open and she was seeing these things. She strove to back out of the vision a little, reassure herself of the reality of her physical surroundings. She could feel her hands lying against her thighs and the hard floor beneath her. If she opened her eyes, it would dispel the vision, though it would be a shock to come out of it so abruptly. She took comfort in knowing that she had this option, could come up if she chose, but did not seriously consider doing so. There was something here that she needed.
The ice was illuminated as if from within, but she had the sense that the source of light was actually behind it. Light and heat, for small drops of water began breaking loose and flying at her. The shower of droplets, still barely above freezing temperature, increased until she was blinded by it. The chill against her skin felt entirely real. Then the cold rain began to diminish as the ice wore away.
When she could see again, the change had come full cycle, and she found herself looking once more at the fire. It was closer, now. A voice, powerful and genderless, filled the emptiness around her.
Energy can be transmuted. The words hung in the air and she could feel them penetrating her flesh, sinking in to the core of her being. Then she was pulled toward the fire, and could feel its warmth, pleasant at first as the chill and dampness were burned away. As she was pulled into the heart of the flames, she could feel the searing heat in her lungs, and decided to end the vision. She tried to open her eyes, and found it was a meaningless concept. They were already open. All around her she could see the dancing light of almost unbearable brightness. She no longer had any sensation of the floor beneath her, or her hands on her legs. She raised her hands and looked at them, silhouetted against the light. They were beginning to smolder. She could see steam rising from her fingers. The feeling was not exactly pain or pleasure, but an intense burning that traveled up her nerves toward her spine and her brain, having aspects of both, and something more besides.
She existed there for a timeless interval, until she felt sure that she had been entirely consumed, and yet the vision did not end. Having tried to open her eyes, without result, it occurred to her to close them.
She did, and the burning in her nerves faded. She could feel the ground beneath her feet. She was standing, though she had no recollection of rising from her meditation pose. Had the session ended? If not, she could sit quietly back down, to avoid disturbing anyone. She took a couple of deep, calming breaths, and opened her eyes.
The ocean stretched out before her, white-capped waves rolling ceaselessly into the shore. There was a tree beside her and she reached out and touched the trunk, steadying herself against it. It felt solid beneath her hand, and her fingers encountered the familiar stickiness of pine sap. She raised her hand to her face and breathed in, and could smell it. She looked around her, seeing a richness of detail usually lacking in visions. It was so beautiful, and yet as she looked out over the empty stretch of grass that led up to the seashore, she was filled with sorrow.
Then her vision went gray, as if a mist had crept over the landscape, and she lost consciousness. When awareness returned, she was slumped down over her crossed legs, trembling and drenched with sweat, breathing as uncontrolled as a child's. She thought some of the moisture on her face might be tears. Energy can be transmuted. The words felt as if they were seared into her mind, like the brand left by white-hot metal pressed against flesh.
The other Inner Circle members had finished their meditation and were moving around her, glancing at her with cautious respect. Such things happened to all of them from time to time, of course. They would not speak to her unless she invited them to. Those who had experiences of unusual intensity during meditation sometimes chose to share their visions with the others, and sometimes did not. She felt no impulse to try to explain any of it to them.
She grabbed her rain cloak from a hook near the door and left the Lodge, walking rapidly down the street. Her clothing was damp, and she wanted to work her legs hard enough to generate some warmth. A fine drizzle was falling from the sky, scarcely more than a mist. After awhile, as she began to feel warmer, she took down the hood of her cloak and let the moisture collect on her face and in her hair.
Energy can be transmuted. It was like a mantra, like a bit of song that played over and over in her head. She felt cleansed, emptied. And when she imagined seeing Garrett the next night, she felt sure she could take him into her arms without any fear of being overwhelmed by inappropriate impulses. She could offer him all the comfort of her Gen presence as a bulwark against his growing need, without offering selyn in anything more than the most abstract sense. Her mere presence would serve to hold off the visceral fear of attrition. And it was no false assurance; Lise would serve Garrett's need, and Lenatta in turn would donate to Lise. It was the Tecton way, and it was a workable system, perhaps not the best of all possible worlds, but one she could live with.
This utter lack of gemmil, similar to what she had felt for a few weeks after her transfer with Dav, might not last. But having accomplished this once, she knew that Zheng K'ai held an answer to what had seemed for awhile like an insurmountable problem. Energy can be transmuted. She felt drained and weak, and at the same time, charged with renewed enthusiasm for her Community House project. She could hardly wait to get back to her list of tasks, which had begun to seem so pointless recently.
But that would not be her first priority. She decided to stop at home long enough to change her clothes, then ride the bus to the Center and pay Garrett an unexpected visit, rather than waiting until the next day when they had planned to meet. She smiled, thinking how surprised he would be to see her. Maybe she could talk him into going out for lunch. Almost a week past his turnover, now, he would have little interest in food. But she thought that with a little encouragement, she could get him to eat something anyway.
And she would see if Keeshore could spare a few minutes to talk to her, as well. He'd mentioned that a couple of the renSimes he worked with had been joining his sessions with the disjunction patients, and might be interested in visiting the Unity Temple. But Lenatta had discouraged him with some vague excuses about completing renovations before trying to increase the size of the class. She expected to see Keeshore that night at the Underside session, but suddenly she did not want to wait even that long to tell him that the time had come.
As she walked, the fine mist gathered on her face and formed into droplets, which tricked down her cheeks like tears when they grew heavy enough. She found herself remembering the slogan Drusilla had been arrested for painting on the high barrier that surrounded Simetown: Tear Down the Wall! If not for the wall, of course, Simetown could not exist at all. Tearing it down would seem like a bizarre thought to most people. According to her parents, the idea of building it in the first place had been initially been met with the same reaction.
But every time a Shaygo home or business posted Sime Territory signs for the comfort of their Sime friends or customers, every time a couple of general donors went into Simetown to enjoy some vegetarian cuisine or to look for a great deal on imported clothing, it was as if the mortar crumbled just a little. Like stone worn away by the slow action of water. Lenatta could recall encountering traces of the wall that had once surrounded Shaygo itself. In a few places, low piles of moss-covered stones still remained, well inside the limits of the expanded city. Perhaps one day, the barriers between the Sime and Gen territories would have no more significance than that.
She drew cool, misty air deep into her lungs, and looked down at her hands, remembering the steam that had risen from them in her vision. Now they felt charged with energy, and as she exhaled and then took another deep breath, she could feel the energy increasing. Anything she touched would be subtly changed. It was a state of Zheng K'ai heightened awareness, and she knew that it would not last, that her mind would return to ordinary things of its own accord. But for the moment she gloried in it, looking at the rain-damp street around her and thinking once again of those mossy piles of stone.
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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