TEST OF COURAGE

by
Mary Lou Mendum

Chapter 7

Boycott

After Tohm's very public donation, Rital could no longer hide behind the excuse of convalescence without raising serious questions. He started taking his regular shift in the Collectorium again, gleaning what selyn he could from the few donors who were healthy enough to come in. By being extra careful not to alarm the Gens, he satisfied himself that his uncertain control was not endangering them unduly.

When Gati came due for transfer, he was glad of the chance to exercise his secondary system without worrying so much about harming his client. He liked serving transfer; it was like being a Gen, only better, because he could zlin the renSime's need melting away under the abundant selyn he provided, in a joyful celebration of life.

This time, however, was different. When he held out his arms, tentacles spread, and projected a tempting Gen field, he couldn't help noticing that Gati's interest in it was completely selfish. She intended to have the selyn he offered, and she wasn't concerned about whether or not she hurt him in the process.

A renSime like Gati could never draw selyn fast enough to injure a channel, of course. They both knew that; it was the basis of the Tecton's ability to prevent the Kill, after all. However, Rital found her lack of concern unsettling. It reminded him too closely of his own reaction to Mathison's terror. For that one brief moment, before his conscience awoke from its paralysis, he honestly hadn't cared whether the Gen lived or died, as long as its fear felt so good.

He'd told himself that reaction was a result of stress; that it was a one time fluke brought on by exposure to overwhelming temptation while he was in hard need and without a Donor. Every channel learned during First Year training that there were personal limits, a breaking point, although Rital had never expected to encounter his own, outside of carefully staged training exercises. He had attributed his lapses since to the lingering after effects of that trauma.

However, if Gati was subject to the same predatory instinct, without experiencing any stress or deprivation beyond her daily work and the shallow need of a renSime, what Sime could a Gen really afford to trust? Was the Tecton's promise to end the Kill so fragile as to be completely unrealistic?

Gati's nager rang with the triumph of conquest as she brought the transfer to an end and released him. "Thank you, Hajene," she said, stretching luxuriously. "That was wonderful."

She looked at him sideways, with an impish smile. "You know, Hajene, when I'm in need I envy Gens. Their lives seem so easy, without having to die for half of each month. But after transfer-well, I wouldn't switch larity for the world. A Gen produces selyn without thought or effort. I wouldn't want to be oblivious to something that fundamental to my existence. What's the point of never dying, if it means never living, as well? I'd rather snatch at life, than have it just happen to me."

There was no trace of guilt or shame in the renSime's nager, and no apology for the imposition her "snatching at life" made on the freedom and safety of the Gens who provided it. The channel reminded himself that Gati had always taken her selyn from a channel, a fellow Sime. She was thus insulated from direct knowledge of how the other larity viewed the basis for her joie de vivre.

As a channel, Rital knew better. Simes could only live by imposing on Gens. The Cordonans used force, while the Tecton relied on persuasion and bribes, but the basic relationship remained unchanged. To be a Sime was to take life from Gens or die of attrition, and it was rare indeed to find a Sime willing to do the latter. How could any Gen who truly understood Simes do anything but hate and fear them? And how could a Sime of conscience bear such an existence?

Rital had been asked those questions before, by rescued changeover victims suddenly facing the reality of life as a Sime. He had offered the young Simes facile reassurances; that the Gens who volunteered to donate did so willingly, and that they enjoyed the chance to provide life to another. He had believed what he'd said at the time, and it was true that the experienced donors who made up the bulk of any Collectorium's business had no serious misgivings about their actions.

However, the renSimes and their need didn't go away when the supply of willing donors dried up, any more than Rital's own First Order sized need had been willing to accommodate itself to Vasthan's Second Order nager. How different from Cordona was the Tecton, really? If persuasion failed to bring in enough volunteer donors, how long would it take before the definition of "volunteer" was changed to increase the pool of potential donors?

It had already been modified a little. Instead of waiting for Gens to decide on their own that they were ready to volunteer, the World Controller had issued an appeal, asking any Gen who could, to give selyn. At the moment, Gens were being left to respond to that appeal or not, as they chose. If that proved insufficient, though, and the selyn shortage worsened, would the Tecton start putting pressure on the Gen government to order its citizens to give selyn?

Rital wished he could believe that the Tecton would never do such a thing, but he couldn't. The first Faith Day, after all, had involved Tecton channels taking the selyn their Sime army needed, from Gen soldiers who had been ordered to submit or face charges of mutiny. It was true that it had been an emergency measure, and the Tecton had returned to accepting only true volunteers when the crisis passed. How much of that had been principle, though, and how much simple convenience? Even Cordonan channels found it easier to harvest Gens who didn't have to be chased down, first.

Would the Tecton's renSimes care, if their selyn came from a Gen who had been pressured to donate? However much Rital wanted to believe differently, he doubted Gati would give the matter more than a passing thought. Her selyn came from a channel, after all. How the channel collected it, was not on her conscience.

Having a channel's field control did have some advantages. Rital was able to send Gati on her way, none the wiser, to enjoy her postsyndrome. Rumor had it that she had been making a concerted effort to attract Vasthan. Rital hoped the young Donor was ready for the challenge.

He competed his record of the transfer and carried the folder back towards the records room, still trying to come up with one good reason for Gens to bother keeping Simes around. His searching attention lighted on Bethany. The young woman was waddling slightly as she left the treatment room, where she had been receiving prenatal training from her grandmother.

Surely providing medical care to Gens was sufficient to justify the existence of channels, even if they had to take selyn from Gens to survive? And what about the lives saved, Gen as well as Sime, by the changeover classes that he and Den offered in the schools? There was no question that the statisticians granted longer life expectancies to Gens who associated with Simes.

Feeling much better, he smiled and greeted Bethany, asking her how the training session had gone.

"Oh, hi, Hajene Rital," she said, then pouted in adolescent fashion. "The lessons are boring me silly. 'Just relax, think of nothing, pretend like you're a turnip in the field and vegetate.' Why couldn't this baby have been a Gen?"

That simple question destroyed Rital's attempt at self-justification. How much of the lesser lifespan of Gens who didn't associate with Simes voluntarily was nonetheless caused directly by Simes? Berserk changeover victims still caused frequent kills among the Gen families in Clear Springs whose children didn't take changeover classes.

In the absence of Simes, those Gens would survive. Bethany, too, would require no help from channels if her baby had been Gen, as she (and no doubt her husband also) openly wished.

If the best a channel could hope to accomplish was to prevent his fellow Simes from killing Gens, what did that say about the intrinsic value of Simes? Wouldn't the Gens be better off if all the Simes were dead, as the conservative Gen clergy had been preaching for generations? The sense of futility grew worse, and the channel reached out to steady himself against the wall.

"Are you all right, Hajene?" Bethany asked. "You look a little pale."

A wave of concern worked its way through her disgruntlement, and Rital forced himself to stand properly. "I'm fine," he assured her, running a quick self assessment. "A touch of nausea, that's all. I'll just go up to the cafeteria and get myself a cup of tea to settle my stomach."

When Rital reached the cafeteria, however, he found it full of diplomats. With two of the three delegations composed entirely of Gens, the negotiations by necessity came to a complete halt at meal times. Many of the Center's Gen staff were also eating lunch, along with a scattering of renSimes using the hungry Gens to spur their own, indifferent, appetites.

As the channel threaded his way through the crowd, he made the mistake of passing close to the table occupied by the two Zillian clergy who had accompanied Defender Foley to the conference. In the absence of their spiritual leader, they felt free to express their true opinions.

"Life eater!" the lean Protector Kelteth hissed, his nager dark with malevolent hatred.

"Parasite!" Protector Grigiano added, his plump form quivering with disapproval of the channel.

Rital collected his tea as quickly as possible, then fled for the Gen-free safety of his office. On his desk was an urgent telegram from Valzor. The epidemic was peaking, leaving even fewer in-Territory Gens able to donate than the week before. Train schedules had been reduced again, and still the Regional Controller was demanding that more selyn be shipped in-Territory, so that all of the renSimes could be served.

The channel checked the past week's donation statistics, made some rough estimates, and frowned. He reached for his pen and some scratch paper, and worked the equations properly. They gave him the same bleak answer; in order for the Tecton to fulfill its obligation to the renSimes, he had to bring in more donations. Even if he succeeded, industrial selyn use by Clear Springs would have to be cut again, this time to only two of the usual four batteries. The bank of wind powered generators could not possibly make up the shortfall, at least not without strictly enforced conservation measures.

Much of the fragile acceptance the Sime Center had won over the past three years had been based on two things. Cheap, selyn based power was useful even to non-donors, and Rital had adamantly refused to take any action that put undue pressure on the local citizens to use its services. He was now faced with discarding both policies, and he didn't expect the local citizens to respond favorably.

He was just finishing a memo to Nid Fulson, outlining the new measures he was being forced to take, when his glum thoughts were interrupted by a Gen nager in the hall outside his office. Seeking distraction, he zlinned more closely, and was surprised to recognize Prince Korrin's aide, Rollin. The Zillian Gen paused outside of Rital's office, then braced himself and hesitantly reached for the door signal.

Unfortunately, pretending that he was somewhere else wasn't an option for the channel. "Enter," he called, in English so that the Gen could understand.

Even through the door, Rital could zlin Rollin's habitual nervousness. He braced himself, wishing that Den was present. As he approached turnover, his sensitivity had increased, and his vulnerability to nageric disturbances with it. He would have to be very careful.

"Come in and sit down," he invited, sheathing his tentacles as the Gen entered. "You're very welcome. I was looking for an excuse to put off some paperwork." He set aside the memo to Nid Fulson, and tried to look harmlessly bureaucratic.

"It's kind of you to see me, Controller Madz." The Gen sat on the very edge of the visitor's chair, looking at his hands. He cast only brief glances in Rital's direction, as if afraid of what he might see. Still, although his fear of Simes zlinned as strong as ever, his specific fear of Rital seemed less than it had been, during their encounter in Prince Korrin's quarters. Perhaps watching the channel take Tohm's donation had had a reassuring effect, and the Gen was willing to trust him a bit. On the other hand, Rollin might just view Rital's heavy, Gen built desk as an effective barrier against attack.

"What can I do for you?" the channel asked. He tried for a pleasant, helpful expression, but did not offer to shake hands in the approved Gen greeting. Neither one of them required that kind of stress.

The aide was more relieved than offended by the omission. "I have a request to make of you, on behalf of my master, Prince Korrin."

Rital raised an eyebrow. "I'll be happy to provide the Prince with any reasonable assistance, if I can. What does he require?" He leaned back in his chair, in a gesture that gave the appearance of relaxed disinterest.

The tacit message was understood, for Rollin scooted back in his own chair to sit more comfortably. "In two weeks, Zillia celebrates the tenth anniversary of King Madigan's coronation. Prince Korrin wishes to host a reception in honor of his father, and has asked me to make the arrangements. I believe the Simes among our guests would be more comfortable here in the Sime Center than at our hotel, where the staff is not used to Simes and they must wear retainers. Would it be possible to borrow the Sime Center's facilities for the occasion? Zillia will, of course, defray any incidental expenses."

"I don't see why not," Rital agreed. "You can make the primary arrangements with our chef, Ref. I'll also direct our receptionists, Seena and Gati, to answer any questions you may have."

"Thank you."

Rital looked at the Gen thoughtfully. "You are an interesting man, Rollin. Most Gens raised apart from Simes view retainers as a minor inconvenience, and have no qualms about requiring Sime guests to wear them, even for extended periods of time. I would have expected someone with your unfortunate experience to be less flexible on that point, not more."

The Zillian aide stared fixedly at his hands. "The Prince asked me to ensure the comfort of his guests, not my own."

The channel sighed. "Rollin, look at me," he ordered gently.

The Gen's nervousness increased, but after a moment, he lifted his head and looked Rital squarely in the eyes. There was a touch of defiance in his expression as he asked, "Yes, Controller Madz?"

Rital rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and steepled his hands. "Have you considered that holding the Prince's reception here will require you to associate with the Sime Center's staff? Even if you work primarily with the Gens among them, you will have occasional contact with Simes."

"I realize that."

"You have a diplomatic exemption, of course, but I would normally require a Gen who was so uncomfortable around Simes to donate before working with renSimes."

A thread of apprehension shot through the Gen's nager, making Rital's stomach clench. Then, Rollin's courage reasserted itself, and the fear faded back into the Gen's usual nervousness. There was an odd patchiness about the way it happened, however. It was as if some portions of the Gen's nager smoothed quickly, while in other sections the change took twice as long. Rital blinked, not sure if he had zlinned correctly.

"Are you making a donation your condition for permission to use Sime Center facilities? If so, I have no choice but to do so. It won't calm Defender Foley's apprehensions, though," Rollin pointed out.

"Which is why I won't insist upon it," Rital agreed. "However, if you must meet with one of the renSimes, please ask a Donor or channel to accompany you. They will be happy to oblige."

"Of course, Controller Madz. Believe me, I've no desire to provoke your renSimes."

The Zillian aide's nager twisted in apprehension again, and this time Rital could zlin that the same patches which had been slower to calm down, were also a hair slower to become agitated. If was as if some parts of Rollin's nager responded with normal speed to his emotions, while in other sections the response was delayed and distorted. This time, the channel couldn't attribute the effect to his retainers.

"Is something wrong?" Rollin asked, shifting uneasily in his chair as the channel stared blankly at him.

"I don't know," Rital said. He rose to his feet and took a few steps to the side, forgetting to move with Gen slowness in his eagerness to zlin the effect from a different angle. He couldn't be sure, at such a distance, but it appeared that the distortion, whatever it was, was both strangely asymmetric and most evident in the shallower levels of the Gen's nager. He had never zlinned such an effect before. Curious, he started around the desk to get a closer zlin.

"Hajene, why are you looking at me like that?"

Rital stopped short as his visitor's nager flared real alarm. "Don't be afraid," he said, in the reassuring tone he used with jumpy donors. "There's something very peculiar about your nager. I just wanted a closer look at it, that's all."

"What do you mean, you want a closer look?" Rollin's face remained almost calm, but his voice cracked with tension, and the odd pattern in his nager became more pronounced. Now, it zlinned almost as if there were fragments of several smaller but distinct nagers hidden within the main one.

The channel discarded his original plan. He would have been able to zlin the phenomenon most clearly with a full lateral contact, but he suspected from Rollin's reaction, that it would take a strong sedative to make that possible. That wouldn't be ethical just to satisfy his curiosity, even if the Gen would consent to it. Rital wasn't the Zillian aide's physician, after all, and there was no proof that the nageric distortion, whatever it was, was affecting his health.

However, it might be possible to get a good reading on the Gen's nager without actually touching him. Legally, that didn't require specific consent from the person being zlinned.

"I won't lay a tentacle tip on you, without your permission," the channel promised, advancing slowly towards the Gen. "Just hold still a moment, and let me zlin you."

Rollin tensed, pressing back against the chair, but didn't quite bolt. His eyes widened, showing the whites clearly, as Rital extended his arms to within six inches of him.

The channel ignored the sight and let his eyes unfocus, concentrating on the Zillian Gen's nager. There were definitely areas where the selyn moved less freely, as if there was localized resistance. Physical injuries could sometimes create selyn impeding scars, but when Rital opened his eyes and looked at the Gen's right wrist, which was associated with one particularly sluggish patch, the skin was smooth and unmarked. The channel used his secondary system to project need. While selyn production in the affected area did increase in response to the stimulus, the increase was less than in the surrounding, normal areas. He let his laterals slip out of their sheaths to confirm the observation. The healthy portions of Rollin's nager shrieked instantly with terror at the sight, followed by a chorus of alarmed yips as the distorted areas responded according to the degree of resistance.

Rital blushed as he recalled his manners. Scientific curiosity was an admirable trait in a channel, but it wasn't an acceptable excuse for provoking unnecessary alarm in a guest.

"I'm sorry," the channel apologized, hastily retracting his laterals as he retreated once more behind his desk. "I didn't mean to alarm you. You have a very odd pattern of scarring, that's not quite like any transfer burn scar I've zlinned before. You said you were burned, badly enough that your kidnappers didn't think you'd survive. What treatment did you receive for your injuries?"

Rollin looked at Rital in confusion, but his immediate alarm was fading as the distance between himself and the channel increased. He answered readily enough. "The Zillian patrol that found me took me to their headquarters, in one of the border forts. The medic there wrapped up my bruised ribs and did what he could for the other scrapes and bruises I'd acquired. It wasn't just the beatings. I'd apparently fallen off my horse at least once. Outside of that, and painkillers for the headache, there wasn't much to be done. The commander sent word to my family, and they shipped me home in a carriage a week later, when I could stand the journey."

"So the transfer burn wasn't treated at all?" Rital asked. He was saddened but not surprised. Out-Territory surgeons might perform miracles with their knives and blood transfusions, but selyn scorched nerves could not be coaxed back to life by slashing them to bits with a scalpel.

"What can be done for transfer burn? My family physician said I used up a lifetime of luck and more, to survive at all," Rollin commented wryly. "I wasn't about to argue with him. My head was throbbing for over a month, but that went away, eventually."

Rital tried to imagine what it must have been like, to be jolted in a carriage for hours while suffering from the sick, nauseating headache of transfer burn. "I'm surprised they didn't wait until you'd healed, before moving you. It must have been very unpleasant."

Rollin's nager darkened with the memory of the ordeal. For an ironic fraction of a second, Rital thought he could zlin the scarred patches as brighter, more optimistic spots, until they darkened as well.

"The journey was a nightmare," the Zillian aide admitted. "And not just because of the pain, either. I'd felt safe in the fort, but once we got into the open I kept imagining Simes behind every bush. I kept thinking how easy it would be for a band of Simes to overpower the pair of servants my family had sent to care for me."

"You'd have been in no danger, even if they had," Rital assured the Gen, with a channel's instinct to soothe pain. "With your field so low, you wouldn't have zlinned worth the bother of attacking, any more than a child would be."

"I can just remember what it was like to be a child." This time, the scarred patches were an echo of darkness against a wistful background, like thunderclouds gathering on the horizon before a violent storm. "It was safe. I'd ramble for hours around the countryside, all alone, just drinking in the solitude. I'd come back with a bouquet of flowers for my mother, and she'd laugh and call me the equal of any courtier." The Gen's face twisted in self disgust. "It's been fifteen years, but I still can't step outside without jumping at shadows, unless I'm with a company of armed men."

Rital looked at the Gen with concern. "Fifteen years, and you're still experiencing trauma related difficulties?"

Rollin gave a harsh, humorless chuckle. "Is 'trauma related difficulties' what it's called, here?" The self-loathing grew more intense. "I can live with being disinherited. I always wanted to travel, and my younger brother has proved more than worthy of his accidental inheritance. I have more freedom as an exile than I'd ever have had, if my life had gone as planned. But why did the accident have to turn me into a coward, as well?"

Rital had no particular expertise in treating the physical and mental after effects of severe transfer burn in Gens. He had no desire to acquire it, either. However, the Zillian aide had suffered more than enough from the ignorance of those around him.

"Whatever else you are, Rollin, you're no coward," the channel contradicted his guest, in crisply professional tones. "If you were, you'd have bolted from the room earlier, when I was zlinning you, instead of holding your ground. If anything, I'd say you have more courage than is good for you. Most people in your situation would never have accepted a position that requires association with Simes, even at a distance."

The Zillian stared at Rital, desperately wanting to believe him.

"You do, however, have a rather severe phobia with regard to Simes and transfer," the channel continued. "It's quite understandable, under the circumstances, but if it's interfering with the way you wish to live your life, I would recommend getting treatment."

"There's a treatment for it?"

"If you had been injured in Nivet Territory, you'd have been under the care of a channel specializing in transfer injuries from the beginning. There would have been minimal nerve scarring, and you would have had the chance to work through the psychological part of the trauma before it became fixed in your habits."

"Next time, I'll ask my attacker to drop me off at the nearest Tecton embassy," Rollin said, with a touch of irony.

"There'd have been some permanent effects, of course; I won't pretend otherwise," Rital continued. "Being attacked and burned isn't a trivial experience. However, you'd be able to donate at a Tecton Sime Center without much distress, and while you were low field, you could associate with Simes safely. Certainly no Cordonan band would target a low field Gen for a forced 'harvest', even if you did encounter one."

The Zillian aide's nager flared dread (with an accompanying chorus of time delayed gibbering) as Rital mentioned donation. However, it was joined by a thoughtful note as the channel continued speaking. "It might even be worth donating, to go out-of-doors again without turning into a wretched, shivering mess," Rollin murmured, and there was a note of hopeless longing in his voice. "At least, if the donation was like the one we saw last week?" He looked at Rital in question.

The channel spread his hands apologetically, careful to keep his tentacles sheathed. "Tohm Seegrin has never been attacked and burned by a Sime. He has no concept of what it is like, and like any avid hobbyist, he tends to view his current enthusiasm as risk free. In this instance, it's a self fulfilling prophecy; as long as he thinks he can't be harmed, he's in little danger from Simes. Even with therapy, you'd probably not be so comfortable donating, and not all channels would be able to work around those scars. On the other hand, I think it's likely that with time and effort, your secondary phobia about being alone outside could be cured completely."

"Defender Foley would not approve, I expect," the Gen stated. "On the other hand, I can only be disinherited once. I don't think Prince Korrin would forbid such therapy, if it could be done without interfering with my duties as his aide. Salvaging the treaty must come first."

Rital could hardly argue with that priority. "Clear Springs doesn't have a specialist in transfer related traumas, anyway. If you wish, though, I could make arrangements for you to be treated at an appropriate facility when the conference is over."

The Zillian stared at his hands for a long moment, considering. "I...I will consider it," he said finally. "That is, if Prince Korrin believes it wouldn't be harmful to our cause. I owe him far too much to allow myself to become an embarrassment, any more than I am already."

Rital still found it hard to accept Rollin's belief that he was at fault for being attacked by a particularly vicious band of thugs. "I'll make inquiries, then, so that you'll have the option, if you choose to take it," the channel agreed. "You do realize that this kind of therapy would be very difficult, so long after the initial injury? The only way to get past a strong fear is to face it down, again and again, until even your subconscious believes you aren't in danger. You don't lack courage, but you'd still be spending several very unpleasant months, before you were past the worst of it."

"If I could wander alone in the gardens again, and gather flowers, it would be worth it."

***

The next morning, Rital's memo to Nid Fulson about the additional cuts in industrial selyn was delivered. The channel was not surprised when Hank Fredricks dropped by an hour later to discuss the issue with him.

The reporter didn't waste time, but went immediately on the attack. "Hajene, do I understand correctly that Clear Springs will receive only half of its usual power?" he asked.

"I am afraid so," the channel admitted.

"My readers will want to know how long they'll have to put up with this shortage, and whether they can expect additional cuts in the future."

"I'm no better at predicting the future than anybody else," Rital said. "However, the World Controller probably won't lift the Level Two emergency until the epidemic has run its course, and the donors who have been sick are giving selyn once more."

"That could be weeks," Fredricks pointed out.

"Yes, it could," the channel agreed. "I didn't reduce Clear Springs' allotment of industrial selyn on a whim, Mr. Fredricks. The epidemic has cut donations by a third across the entire continent."

Fredricks looked at the channel shrewdly. "Am I right that despite the drop in donations, you're collecting more selyn here than the power plant can use?"

"That's true enough," Rital admitted. "Most of the selyn collected in Clear Springs must be sent in-Territory, however. The epidemic has cut donations by in-Territory Gens as well, over the past few weeks, and the selyn shortage has become critical in places. Only our ability to transport selyn to where is it most desperately needed has allowed the Tecton to fulfill its obligation to its citizens."

"And yet, the Tecton doesn't feel that it has any obligation to honor its agreement with the citizens of Clear Springs, and fill the selyn batteries?" The newsman's nager focused on Rital sharply, a sign that he had reached the end of his line of questioning, and anticipated a highly quotable, and politically damaging, admission.

Rital was not about to oblige. "The obligation to which I was referring, Mr. Fredricks," he answered quietly, "is the Tecton's promise to provide a transfer for every Sime in need, so they don't have to kill Gens to survive. With so many of our donors falling sick, on both sides of the border, that is no trivial task. Our success will depend on whether enough new donors step forward to replace those who are sick. Since all Gens in-Territory must donate regularly, the only place to find new donors is out-Territory communities like Clear Springs. If the World Controller's appeal is ignored, we will all have a great deal more to worry about than whether the lights go on when we flip the switch."

A much sobered Hank Fredricks stared at the channel. "The situation is that serious? It threatens the First Contract?" An interesting hint of fear underlaid the question, and Rital quickly offered what reassurance he could.

"The Tecton will make every effort to fulfill its obligations, for our sake as well as yours. I doubt that there will be Sime Raiders setting off across the border to attack Gen towns. However, we will have to ration the selyn available for industrial use.

"I realize that the loss of power is a great inconvenience to the citizens of Clear Springs," he continued in an apologetic tone. "However, there's been sufficient wind to supplement the selyn batteries. The economic losses shouldn't be too severe, if people conserve energy as much as they can."

Hank Fredricks frowned down at his notebook. "My readers will want to know why they have to make the sacrifices, when your selyn collection system breaks down. Is it easier to cut off power to a foreign city, whose inhabitants can't hold the Tecton accountable in the way that in-Territory citizens can?"

Rital looked at the out-Territory reporter with surprise. "But the Level Two selyn emergency measures require far greater sacrifices from in-Territory citizens," he explained. "Most renSimes have been forbidden to augment for over a month, now. Among other things, that means construction work and other muscle heavy industries haven't kept anything close to their normal schedules. Industries using selyn powered machinery have been limited to half their normal production. The train schedules have been cut back severely, and people are being asked to walk, or use bicycles, instead of driving their automobiles. Fortunately, voluntary conservation efforts have reduced the demand for battery power considerably."

Fredricks paused in his note scribbling to stare at the channel with amazement. "Our citizens would stage a revolution, if the government made such demands of them. Why hasn't there been any outcry? Or has it just not been translated for the out-Territory press?"

Rital zlinned an opportunity for promoting greater understanding, and just maybe, repairing some of the damage that Skaggit had done to the Tecton's emergency donor recruitment efforts. "Believe me, Mr. Fredricks, in-Territory citizens don't like having their lives disrupted any more than your readers. Then, too, selyn based technology is used more extensively in our society. However, our Simes face a terrifying choice if the Tecton runs out of selyn; death by attrition, or the Kill. And that, too, is a death sentence these days; only very young Simes are flexible enough to survive disjunction. Older Simes die a very messy death. No one is willing to risk that, simply to get a building completed on time, or a warehouse filled."

"Well, I can see that you'd have different priorities, in Sime Territory" the newsman admitted. "Still, I'd expect even necessary measures to spark protests, when they're so severe."

"That's because you're a Gen, and you live apart from Simes," the channel said. "The unsettling thing about this epidemic is the way it wastes selyn. A Sime who catches the disease burns so much extra selyn that he requires transfer a week early. A general class donor's field will actually diminish while he is sick. Simes find it deeply reassuring to zlin selyn production in their Gen friends, colleagues and family. It's a promise that we aren't going to die at the end of the month, after all. Can you understand how frightening it is for us to zlin the life we need slipping away, wasted? And to know that our lives now depend, not on the loving gifts of people who care about our welfare, but on the haphazard and grudging charity of hostile strangers? Strangers who place more importance on their light switches, than on whether we live or die?"

Fredricks looked at Rital searchingly, judging his sincerity as best a Gen could. "I think I understand," he said thoughtfully. "I'll explain as best I can to my fellow citizens, and perhaps we can avoid even more stringent restrictions on power use. Check tomorrow's edition."

"Thank you," the channel said gratefully. "I will."

***

Hank Fredricks had good intentions, but he was still a newspaper editor, and he had to place top priority on the most dramatic news. That same afternoon, there was an explosion in one of the university's chemistry labs. Three students were injured, and the fire trucks and ambulances were out in force. The Clarion covered the accident in depth on the front page. Between interviews with city and University officials, and gruesome first hand accounts from the injured students' classmates, the interview with Rital was pushed back to the third page, along with other coverage of foreign affairs.

The channel's words must have left an impression on the newsman. The article ran under the headline "Epidemic Causes Hardship on Both Sides of the Border," and it presented much of the information Rital had provided on the draconian rationing of industrial selyn in-Territory. Den approved of the tone of the coverage, and Rital thought it made a well argued case for every Gen to donate who was physically able.

Unfortunately, the citizens of Clear Springs seemed to find it unconvincing, or perhaps they hadn't read as far as the third page. Donations did not increase, and the only direct response to the article was a letter to the editor. It's author wanted to know why she should trust her life to a channel who allowed his guest to run amok among her fellow citizens. A channel who wasn't trustworthy, according to the letter, had no right to ask to be trusted. Just below it was a letter from Gillum Mathison's sister, bitterly complaining that Skaggit had not been punished for attacking her brother, and accusing Rital specifically, and the Tecton in general, of shielding the Cordonan channel. She called on the Gens of Clear Springs to boycott the Collectorium until Rital relented and turned Skaggit over to the Clear Springs police for prosecution.

Rital couldn't fault either woman's logic. Still, the accusations stung, not least because of his own belief that he'd failed to shield Mathison from abuse by a Sime, when the Gen was legally in Sime Territory and had a legitimate claim to his protection. To make matters worse, Wilda Orson, one of the Clarion's more popular junior reporters, decided to use the two letters as the basis for her weekly column, "What do YOU think?", which was published on the widely read cartoon page. Four out the five opinions she featured, agreed that boycotting the Sime Center would help Gillum Mathison obtain justice from the Tecton. Over the following days, donation rates plummeted, particularly among the vitally important first time donors. Rital began to feel that the beast which had been aroused in him was doing its best to consume his entire world, as well.


 Read Chapter 8

 


Companion in Zeor is Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003   by Sime~Gen Inc.   

The Sime~Gen universe was created by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and is owned by Sime~Gen Inc. and may not be reused without explicit permission of the Corporation.  Email: simegen@simegen.com 

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