TEST OF COURAGE

by
Mary Lou Mendum

Chapter 10

Risk Avoidance

"You want to what?" Rollin stared at the approaching channel, hiseye's widening until the whites showed clearly.

"I want to heal your ankle," Rital repeated. "I can't repair thatsprain completely in one session, but I can get rid of the bruising and seteverything to healing quickly. A day or two of rest should do the rest.You said you could arrange that without raising undue suspicion."

He knelt beside the Gen's chair as he talked and reached for theinjured extremity with one hand, all tentacles carefully retracted.Rollin's reaction was not encouraging. His field flared dismay, and heshrank back in his chair, trying instinctively to get farther away from thechannel. In the process, he put weight on the sprained ankle. Pain andtrepidation chased each other through the fragmented nager in an insanedance, and the uncivilized part of Rital wondered how the pattern wouldchange if he were to reach out and twist the injured ankle, hard.

The civilized veneer which Rital preferred to think of as himselfreacted in horror to the idea, freezing his hand about six inches away fromthe Gen. The beast resisted, however, and he couldn't make himselfretreat. For an unsettling moment, he wondered if this time, it would winthe silent contest of wills.

"Please, Rollin," he begged. "Don't do that to me."

The seductive pain-and-fear pattern was disrupted as confusiondistracted the Gen, followed a moment later by understanding. "I'm sorry.I didn't mean to upset you," he said, adding facets of regret andembarrassment to the muddle. "I'll try to do better." A wave of couragebecame dominant, but the lesser emotions lingered, clearly zlinnable in thedistorted scar patches. "There. I'm not afraid now. Go ahead."

Rital noted in passing that the Gen seemed consciously aware onlyof the dominant emotion he was projecting, not the secondary ones displayedin the lesser facets. Such an adjustment was necessary, or the Gen couldnot have functioned at all, but the phenomenon was going to complicatematters. He scooted backwards, putting a little more distance betweenthem, but remained kneeling in hopes of appear less threatening to Gen eyes.

"You are afraid," he corrected, in a sympathetic tone. "Youcertainly don't lack courage, as I said before. You could force yourselfto let me touch you, no matter how afraid you were. I suspect that kind ofcourage is the reason you've remained a basically functional person,despite what happened fifteen years ago. I don't know many people whocould do that, without any treatment whatsoever for the trauma."

"Since the other options were insanity or death, I had incentive tosucceed," Rollin pointed out. "If I'd let my fear rule me, I'd havesalvaged even less of my life than I did."

"It was still a remarkable feat," the channel said, letting hisvoice and expression display his genuine admiration. "Unfortunately,courage can't banish fear. It only suppresses the emotion, and lets you dowhat you must in spite of it. The fear's still there, underneath, and canbreak out at unpredictable times. Your courage doesn't hide your fear evenas well as it does for most Gens, because the burn scarring affects howyour nager zlins in some peculiar ways."

The Gen winced. "So the whole Sime Center knows I'm hopelesslyafraid of Simes?"

"Well, yes," Rital admitted. "That's why the renSimes have beenkeeping their distance from you. They haven't spent fifteen years gettingused to your phobia, and so they can't be sure they have enough courage oftheir own to face what you're experiencing."

"I was always taught that courage is a virtue," Rollin saidplaintively. "In Zillia, children are raised on stories of heroes who winagainst impossible odds by refusing to give in to normal human fears. Fromwhat you say, though, courage is a vice among Simes."

"Courage is as necessary for Simes as for Gens," the channelpointed out. "There are always problems that must be solved and challengesto be faced. Some are dangerous enough that any sane person would beafraid. Fortunately, the worst Sime responses are triggered only when aGen specifically fears being attacked for selyn."

A frission of terror shimmered through the Gen's nager, even thoughthe discussion was theoretical and Rital made no threatening moves. Thebeast stirred eagerly, wanting to feel more of it. It threatened thechannel's concentration in ways that shouldn't have been possible, when hewas still a full week from need. He decided then and there that he wouldnot risk touching the Zillian aide in his current state.

Rollin's expression remained calm and interested, despite his fear."Why's that?" he asked.

"If Gen believes he'll die if a Sime attacks him for selyn, and ifhe's actively worried that it's going to happen, he feels threatenedwhenever he's around Simes," Rital explained. "He's also likely to wantSimes to stay well away from him."

"That's proper manners in-Territory anyway, isn't it? Why wouldwanting someone to be polite tend to cause the opposite?"

"It works like this," Rital explained. "The Sime zlins the Gen'sreluctance to provide selyn. He also can't help zlinning that his ownselyn supply is finite, and he knows to a second when it will run out.Every instinct starts screaming at him to secure more selyn while he can,or he'll die. After all, he can zlin very plainly that if the Gen hasanything to say about it, that selyn won't be available when he's used uphis current supply. So he attacks the Gen. It's just as reflexive as theinstinct that makes a drowning person clutch desperately at a rescuer, evenif that risks drowning them both."

This description of the Sime attack reflex was accurate as far asit went, the channel knew, but it left out one important detail; thatattacking a Gen felt good to a Sime.

"I'm surprised any Gens choose to live among Simes, if it's thateasy to get oneself killed," Rollin commented.

Rital had spent the preceding three weeks wondering the same thing,but then, what Sime could hope to understand how a Gen's mind worked?Besides, to admit that he was clueless would be counterproductive.

"Accidental kills are very rare, in Sime Territory," he explainedinstead. "Much rarer than in Gen Territory, because there aren't anyneglected changeover victims attacking the nearest Gen in the desperationof First Need. In-Territory Gens donate selyn regularly, and are taughthow to avoid provoking Simes as soon as they establish. They don't seeSimes as threats, and the Simes can zlin that their selyn will beavailable. As a result, they don't trigger the Sime instinct to attack,and they're safe."

"It sounds logical, when you explain it that way," the Gen agreed."But how do you stop being afraid of something that really is a threat?After all, nobody can be completely sure of not being afraid at just thewrong moment, if something were to happen unexpectedly."

"That's why technical class Donors are required to be fearless, notcourageous, at least when it comes to Simes. Only Gens who don't feartransfer at all can be sure of handling a Sime attack."

"Everybody else takes their chances, and relies on the odds?"

"Well, there's some common sense involved, as well," the channelpointed out. "It's usually possible for a Gen to avoid dangeroussituations, or to use courage as a stopgap measure to contain fear whileleaving the area. Most renSimes will cooperate, and keep their distancewhen they are particularly vulnerable to temptation. It's channels who endup exposed to uncontrolled Gen fear."

"That sounds dangerous, when you risk death if you miscalculate."

"We try to minimize the risk," Rital said, getting to his feet. Hecontinued to talk as he walked over to the supply closet and rummagedaround in it, searching for a particular item among the teaching materialsthat had been haphazardly shoved inside during the pre-conference cleaning."The presence of a calm Donor can do much to offset the effect of anotherGen's fear, for instance. I'd just as soon avoid bringing Den in on this,though. He tends to ask inconvenient questions, and he's said more than heshould in public, at times. Fortunately, there are other ways to workaround the problem. Ah, here we are." He reached underneath a stack ofchangeover training pamphlets and removed a rectangular medical kit thesize of a small suitcase. He brought it over to the small table betweenthe two armchairs. Two handling tentacles flipped the catches to open thelid, then the channel paused to look at the Gen appraisingly.

Rollin squirmed under the scrutiny. "What do you mean by 'otherways'? And why do I suspect you want to use them on me?"

The channel conceded the accusation with a finger movement used byGens and children. He wasn't sure if Rollin would understand it, but atleast it shouldn't alarm him as much as the usual tentacle gesture.

"We've agreed that your ankle, if left untreated, will raisequestions that neither of us particularly wants to answer," he pointed out."I can't heal it while you're so afraid of me. Quite apart from the issueswe've discussed, I couldn't do much for your ankle if you're putting outrandom emotional outbursts while I'm trying to work on you. It's toodistracting."

"You have some magical gadget in there that can turn off my fear?"The Gen was openly skeptical.

"Well, no," Rital admitted, rummaging among the contents of thecase. "But one of the common medications for slowing selyn consumptionduring changeover does have a calming effect on Gens, too. With a strongenough dose, you won't care what happens to you."

He found the vial of fast acting sedative and grunted insatisfaction as he read the label to confirm the strength of the darkliquid within. "There it is. How much do you weigh?" In a moment ofsheer carelessness, the channel zlinned Rollin to estimate his mass, andwinced as the Gen erupted with fresh alarm. "Don't do that," hecomplained.

This time, the Zillian aide didn't apologize. His nager showed thefrantic pattern of trapped and cornered prey. If he'd been able to run,Rollin would have been halfway down the hall already.

"You want to drug me into helplessness?"

"Well, yes, that's the general idea." The predator within Ritalwanted nothing of the kind. It knew the Gen could never escape it. Itwanted to play with him, savoring each delicious moment as it slowly closedin.

That, of course, was why the channel had no intention of gettingany closer until the Gen's outbursts were safely curbed. He edged fartheraway, disguising his retreat by taking a clean glass from the refreshmentcart. He uncapped the vial and poured a careful dose of the drug, saying,"This isn't enough to knock you out entirely; that wouldn't be wise, underthe circumstances. You'll be aware of what's happening, but you simplywon't care. The effect will be like being very drunk, only it won't giveyou a hangover. You will be groggy for a day or so, though."

Rollin wasn't reassured by this explanation. "You're serious aboutthis, aren't you?"

"Very serious." Rital diluted the sedative with some fruit juiceto disguise the flavor. With more distance between himself and the Gen'snager, he could regain his equilibrium, and reinforce his waveringself control. When he trusted himself not to give in to his baserimpulses, he braved Rollin's field long enough to set the glass on thetable beside the Zillian.

"It's up to you, of course," he said, retreating once more. "Ifyou'd rather leave your ankle as is, and brave the consequences, that'syour decision. However, I'm not going to try to heal you while you'refighting me."

The Zillian stared at the glass. His nager settled intonear homogenous, horrified fascination as the fragments in his nagerreached an unusual state of emotional unanimity. Zlinning, the channelrealized that Rollin was almost as afraid of the drug as he was of Ritalhimself. Or perhaps it was simply that the Gen didn't trust Rital not totake advantage of his helplessness.

"I'm a Tecton channel, not a Cordonan bandit," Rital said softly. "I willdo nothing but heal your ankle and see you safely into Prince Korrin'shands; you have my oath on that." As the Gen looked up at him in freshalarm, he sighed and added, "And no, I can't read your mind, only youremotions. Which at the moment are a bit skeptical about my intentions."

The Zillian's temporary nageric unity shattered as embarrassmentand self reproach joined the mix, and his face turned scarlet. He startedto blurt out an apology, which Rital stemmed with a gesture.

"I don't blame you for doubting me," he reassured the Gen. "Youhave good reason to be skeptical about the intentions of any Sime."

"You've done nothing to earn my distrust," Rollin dissented,meeting the channel's gaze squarely. His left hand twitched, then movedslowly but steadily towards the glass. He picked it up, and the liquidsloshed back and forth as his hand trembled. This outward display of fearinvoked the Gen's habitual courage, and firmed his resolve. His handsteadied as he raised the glass briefly in an ironic toast, then tossed offthe drugged fruit juice in two efficient swallows.

Rollin set the empty glass back on the table, making a face at thebitter flavor, which couldn't have been completely masked by the fruitjuice. Then the Zillian settled back in his chair, and turned apprehensiveeyes on the channel. "What happens now?" he asked, his voice quavering.

The Gen's nager was a jangling cacophony of fear, trust, regret,determination, curiosity, and pain. Rital prudently kept his distance fromit. If there was anything more dangerous to his control than Gen pain andfear, it was pain and fear in a Gen who had consented to be handled, andtherefore, silenced the channel's conscience.

"It'll be a while before the drug takes effect, so you might aswell relax and get comfortable," the channel prevaricated, in thereassuring tones he used with nervous donors. He leaned back against thewall to demonstrate his own lack of hurry.

Rollin's tension eased, making him more vulnerable to the drug'sinsidious effect. Within minutes, the Gen's eyelids started drooping, andhis nager flattened into a dull, crazy quilt muddle of vague apprehension,moderate discomfort, and minor confusion. Rital's beast had no interest intormenting a Gen who offered such poor sport, and retired to its lair indisgust. This left the channel free to approach his patient without fear.

The now compliant Rollin opened his eyes as Rital knelt beside him,but the Gen was too comfortable to be concerned, much less muster anobjection. He watched with detached interest as the channel removed hisshoe and sock, and extended his laterals to zlin the injured ankle.

A brief but careful examination confirmed that most of the damagewas bruising. No bones were broken, and only one of the overstressedligaments had actually torn. The channel set to work to repair the damage.After weeks of carrying out his duties while tensed against inappropriatefeelings, it was an unexpected pleasure to work on a Gen who was physicallyincapable of threatening his control. He lingered over the task, healingthe damage much more thoroughly than he'd originally intended. Rollinwould have barely a hint of tenderness to remind him of his adventure.

When the channel finished with the ankle, he hesitated, fightingtemptation. He'd wanted a closer zlin of the Gen's fragmented nervoussystem since he first realized its cause. The effect wasn't like anytransfer burn scarring his teachers had described. Rital wondered if thedifference was due to lack of treatment, or to the perpetrator's being achannel, or to some other completely different and as yet unknown factor.

It would be easy to find out. Drugged and helpless, Rollincouldn't object, if the channel were to take his hands and make a fulltransfer contact. It would only take a moment to zlin the Zillianproperly. The Gen would suffer mild apprehension at most, hardly even aninconvenience.

But when Rollin recovered from the drug, he would remember thatRital had broken his word. He would know that even Tecton channels tookadvantage of Gens when they could.

Reluctantly, Rital discarded the idea of a closer examination.Instead, he put the Gen's shoe and sock back on, then took a few minutes tostraighten up. He put the changeover kit back into the closet, and rinsedthe glass that had held the drug, first with water, and then with brandy.When he was satisfied that the room was consistent with the official storyof a friendly drinking bout, he turned to the remaining piece of physicalevidence that could accidentally betray them; Rollin himself.

The Gen had long since lost interest in the proceedings and dozedoff. Rital shook him by the shoulder. "Wake up," he urged. "It's timefor you to go home, now."

The Zillian opened one eye, halfway. "Can't go home," he objectedgroggily. "I'm exiled."

"Well, back to your quarters, anyway," the channel correctedhimself. "Come, Prince Korrin is waiting for you. Remember you'resupposed to be very drunk."

This appeal to duty got the Gen staggaring to his feet, although hedidn't seem sure what to do after that. Rital zlinned to make sure thathis healing job wouldn't attract a renSime's casual attention. He decidedit would do, if he blurred Rollin's effect on the ambient with his ownnager.

The channel steered his charge out the library door and down thehall towards the Sime Center's back door, zlinning nervously ahead of them.Rollin might look drunk to Gen eyes, but any channel who zlinned him woulddetect the sedative. His own staff Rital could swear to secrecy, butSkaggit might inform Protector Kelteth out of sheer perversity. It wasbest to limit the chance of disaster by going around the building, insteadof through it.

Rital used his keys to reenter the building through the door tothe now closed Collectorium. He led the Gen through the empty waiting roomand past the collecting rooms, then cut through the records room into themain lobby. Prince Korrin was there, conversing urgently with DefenderFoley. Protector Kelteth hovered just within earshot, listening avidly.Skaggit was nowhere to be zlinned, and so the channel guided Rollin over tohis employer.

The Zillian heir eyebrows were creased with worry. "It's just notlike him to..." the young Gen was saying. He broke off, staring at hisaide's weaving progress, and frowned. His nostrils quivered as the scentof brandy reached them, wafting from the spill on Rollin's shirt front."You are dead drunk!" he accused Rollin indignantly. "I thoughtProtector Kelteth was exaggerating."

"My son, you should have exercised more restraint," Defender Foleysaid. The prelate's nager displayed the compassionate disappointment ofone whose profession brought him into frequent contact with human frailty."This is neither the time nor the place to indulge in strong drink. HajeneSkaggit stormed out of the talks after his latest demands were refused.His Highness depends on your advice and counsel in this crisis, and you arein no condition to give it."

Rital zlinned the Defender closely, but was unable to determinewhether the man was pleased or upset by Skaggit's behavior. If he wasbeing blackmailed into acting against the treaty, he didn't appeardistressed about it. Alternatively, he might be too focused on hispastoral obligations towards Rollin to think about personal problems, justnow. The channel didn't know the man well enough to guess which.

Despite the drug, Rollin didn't betray himself by blurting out thathe wasn't drunk. Instead, he shuffled his feet and assumed an expressionof deep contrition. "I'm shorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean...it washgood brandy. Pleash forgive me?"

The Defender sighed patiently. "It isn't me whom you've offended,and so I can't absolve you," he pointed out. "That forgiveness must comefrom your master, after you've completed your penance." He turned toKorrin. "Perhaps two days of prayer and reflection, confined to hisquarters on limited rations, would be appropriate?"

"Whatever you think best, Holiness," Prince Korrin agreed. Behind theDefender, Protector Kelteth flared disappointment. Rital suspected thatthe subordinate priest had planned a much more severe punishment. However,the man didn't dare oppose his superior's decree; not in public, anyway.

If Foley retained the independence to act on small matters, indefiance of whatever hold his subordinates had over him, then perhaps therewas still some small hope for salvaging the treaty. Rital felt a stirringof hope as he consigned Rollin to Prince Korrin's care, and took his leave.

***

By lunch time the next day, it was clear that the ruse had worked,and Protector Kelteth hadn't guessed that Rollin was his spy. That freedthe channel to consider the personal ramifications. He'd responded toRollin's pain and fear much too strongly for his peace of mind, especiallysince he was still a week away from hard need. The beast hadn't overcomehis control and forced him to attack the helpless Gen. However, for a fewseconds it had kept him from retreating from the temptation. If itcontinued to grow in strength and subtlety, the next time it might win.How could he predict when it, and therefore he, would become a publicdanger?

As Rital stared blindly into his soup, trying to find a way out ofhis dilemma, he heard an admonitory "Tsk!" at his elbow. He looked up tosee the Center's chef shaking his head.

"What awful seasoning did I put in the soup, that you glare at itinstead of eating it properly?" Ref scolded.

The channel forced a smile. "I'm afraid my thoughts areelsewhere," he admitted. Bracing himself, he consumed two whole spoonsfulof the rich vegetable broth, and a piece of carrot by way of apology. "It'sdelicious," he lied, hoping to placate the chef's hurt feelings.

The Gen chuckled. "You're kind to say so, although I know you'veno appetite at present."

Rital shrugged, and spread fingers and handling tentacles toconcede the point. Instead of moving on to coax the next Sime to eat,however, the chef slipped into the chair next to Rital. His good humor haddisappeared like ice on a hot stove. "Hajene, there's trouble with therefreshments for the Zillian banquet."

The channel gestured with one tentacle for the Gen to continue,then sipped at a third spoonful of broth to prove that he was attending to the soup.

"Prince Korrin wants to feature traditional Zillian fare,particularly dishes favored by their King."

"Well, that's not surprising," Rital said, wondering why the chefwas so upset by the idea. Ref was usually one of the steadiest Gens onstaff, excepting the Donors, of course. Fortunately, his distress wasunrelated to Rital's presence, and therefore provided no real temptation tothe channel's beast. "I see no reason to forbid them their favorite foods;it's their party, after all. Is there some problem I'm not seeing?"

"King Madigan's favorite entree is apparently based on atomato-onion sauce mixed with vinegar and certain spices."

"You can't get the ingredients?"

"Some of the spices were hard to find, but I managed," Ref assuredhim. "I made up a batch of the sauce yesterday, according to the recipesupplied by Rollin. It's an interesting combination of flavors, althoughit's spicy enough that the local guests probably won't like it much."

"Surely there will be other dishes for those who don't like the sauce?"

"Well, yes," the chef admitted.

"Then what's the problem?" the channel asked, letting a touch ofimpatience show.

"Prince Korrin insists that the sauce be served in the traditionalfashion; slathered on roasted cow flesh!" The Gen's revulsion immediatelydestroyed Rital's already uncertain appetite, and the channel set down hisspoon.

"Well, that's different," he conceded. "Have you explained thatSimes don't eat animal flesh?"

"His Highness said the Gen delegates will expect meat, and if theSimes don't like it, they don't have to eat it," Ref said glumly. "Hajene,I won't have my kitchen turned into a mortuary."

Rital sighed. "Perhaps if I talk to the Prince, and explain hownauseating in-Territory citizens of both larities find the idea of eatinganimals, he'll be willing to forgo his father's favorite sauce."

"He doesn't have to give up the sauce," the chef said quickly. "Ican make a vegetable based entree with a texture that would showcase itnicely. The stuff is so spicy even King Madigan wouldn't be able to tellwhat it's slathered on, without looking."

"That seems a reasonable compromise," the channel agreed. "I'lltalk to His Highness, and make sure he understands."

"Thank you," Ref said, with heartfelt relief. However, he did notget up. "Hajene, there is one other matter."

Rital wasn't sure he wanted to know, but the chef wasn't the typeto waste a channel's time with trivia. He raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"I took the young Cordonan, Toljee, downtown yesterday, to shop forclothing. We purchased several appropriate outfits for him." Hesmiled ruefully. "It was more difficult than I'd anticipated. The youngman's fashion sense is as barbaric as Skaggit's, and my six-year-old niecehas a better grasp of value and budget."

"Give him time," Rital advised. "This is all strange to him. He'shad a lot of changes thrown at him all at once, but he's young enough to beflexible. He'll learn."

"If he decides to join the Tecton as a Donor, I'm sure he will,"the chef agreed. "The adjustment will be difficult, though. For instance,did you know he thinks you didn't give him a new shirt yourself because youdisapprove of his progress in mastering the lessons Den set him?"

"But Den's told me several times that Toljee works hard and isdoing well," the channel objected. "More to the point, I can't imagine Dentelling me that, if he hadn't already told Toljee the same thing."

"Ah, but Den is only another Gen," Ref pointed out. "More to thepoint, he's your Gen, or at least that is how Toljee understands yourTecton assignment. In Cordona, I understand, there's usually a rivalrybetween Donors, as they vie for their channel's attention. A channel'sfavorite Donor gets the best clothes, and better food, and a good chance toensure that the others bear the brunt of their master's displeasure."

"The more I learn about Cordona, the less I like it," Rital said.

"I won't argue with that," the chef agreed. "Since no Cordonanchannel would have rescued him for purely altruistic reasons, Toljeeassumed that you'd claimed him for your personal use. He's been veryconcerned that you haven't used him as a Donor."

"He's a largely untrained Second," Rital objected. "How can heexpect to work with me? He could never serve me in transfer, and hisfield work is very rudimentary."

"Even I know that," Ref said, "but apparently Toljee does not.When you didn't use him or reward him, he decided you were angry with him,probably because Den trained him badly, or submitted false reports of hisprogress."

"If that's what he thinks, why the shen hasn't he complained to meabout Den?"

"I asked him," the chef admitted. "He said a Cordonan channelwould just punish him for wasting a Sime's valuable time with a pettydispute between Gens."

"I can see I'm going to have to explain some things to him," Ritaladmitted. "Starting with the fact that I'm not a Cordonan channel.Although where I'm going to find the time, as short handed as we are..."He shrugged helplessly, then pushed his half finished soup away.

"That will be immensely reassuring to the young man," Ref said,getting to his feet. He leaned over and firmly pushed the soup bowl backin front of the channel. "The matter isn't so urgent that it can't waituntil you've finished your meal," he pointed out.

With a martyred sigh, Rital picked up his spoon again and began to eat.

***

Toljee's master, Skaggit, had been spending much of his spare time inthe records room. There, he scanned folder after folder of donationrecords. His temper grew worse as he searched in vain for evidence todisprove Rital's claim that well treated, volunteer donors yielded moreselyn than those who were "harvested" under duress. However, the Cordonanchannel still found time to display his amusement at the donor boycott.

"Where are all your so-happy volunteer donors now, ControllerMadz?" he gloated that afternoon, as he dropped by the records room. Skagitt'sown boycott of the negotiations had given him the opportunity to continuehis study. "They're certainly not enjoying the comforts of your nicelydecorated waiting room, it appears."

Rital, who had Collectorium duty that afternoon, had intended towhile away his shift working on his monthly report in the privacy of therecords room. It would require some careful wording to put the bestpossible face on the disasters of the past few weeks.

It wasn't lost on him that his plans were a concession that hedidn't expect any donors to show up during the next few hours.

"If you give Gens a choice about harvest, they'll tell you to godie of attrition," Skaggit continued, twisting the knife. "The local Genswon't donate enough selyn to keep their own lights working. Do you thinkthey care about Simes who don't even live in the same Territory?"

"The epidemic will run its course, in a few weeks or months," Ritalsaid, refusing to let himself be baited. "So will the boycott. Then ourregular donors will return." He kept his showfield as neutral as possible,in hopes the Cordonan channel would drop the subject and go away.

Skaggit was not finished with his taunting yet, however. "If you'dlet me harvest those Gens in the power plant, they might not have yieldedas much as your pampered pets, but they'd have yielded something. As itis, you have nothing. That's what it means to live on charity; to havenothing. Nothing at all that is yours by right, and can be depended on."

"Your philosophy only works if what you want doesn't belong tosomeone else," Rital pointed out. "When you steal from a person, yourvictim will try to prevent you from stealing again, or failing that, tominimize his losses. Each time you go out to steal, your task becomesharder, and you get less for your efforts. On the other hand, a person whomake a charitable gift once is quite likely to give again, and to persuadehis friends and family to give as well. Over time, one gets more and more,for less and less effort."

"Gens resign themselves to harvest soon enough, when you give themno choice but to submit," the Cordonan objected. "It's not as if you haveto chase them down every time you want some selyn. That's beside thepoint, however. We of Cordona, and your Tecton also, need more selyn now,not in some theoretical future. Will you wait until your economycollapses, and your citizens are dying from attrition, before you takestronger measures?" Skaggit stared sternly down at the Tecton channel.His nager displayed the exasperated patience of a parent trying hard toconvince a particularly stubborn child of an unpleasant truth.

"We could recover from an economic collapse," Rital pointed out."What you propose would mean a full scale war, and that would lead to farmore deaths, on both sides, than would be acceptable to any sane person."

"War?" the Cordonan scoffed. "There would be no war. Gens arecowards at heart, here as well as in Amzon and Zillia. They would protestand complain, it is true. In the end, though, they would choose theprudent path, and do nothing." He smiled in encouragement. "Come now. Itwould be very easy to break this so called boycott. The Gens here are notwary. My seven renSimes could easily round up enough high field Gens tofill your waiting room, if you think yours aren't up to the task."

Rital looked at Skaggit with growing horror. He could zlin thatthe Cordonan was serious about his outrageous suggestion, and that it wasintended as a sincere peace offering. "What you propose is madness," heobjected. "It violates both the letter and spirit of the First Contract,in every particular. Any Tecton channel who participated in such a venturewould be executed. I'm not fond of attrition, thank you very much."

"Is that what's bothering you?" the Cordonan asked, with a shrugthat dismissed the other channel's concerns as trivial. "If you'reconcerned about your Tecton superiors, I'll take full responsibility forthe project myself. There's no travel required, or armed sentries tosubdue, so it won't take more than an hour or so to conduct the raid.Afterwards, you can provide Controller Monruss in Valzor with more selynthan he requested, while sincerely deploring the method by which I gatheredit. I can even make sure there's enough selyn left over to provide ClearSprings with a full quota for their precious batteries. That should quietany serious objections from the town's authorities. What do you say?"

"I say that if you or your Simes set one foot outside this SimeCenter for the purpose of staging such a raid, I will lock the doors ofthis Sime Center against your return and let the Gens tear you to shreds,diplomatic immunity or no." Rital made sure that his nager was suitablymenacing. "Do you understand me?"

Skaggit took a hasty step backwards. "I meant no offense,Controller Madz," he said. "I realize that Tecton customs are differentfrom ours. It's just that..."

The Cordonan broke off as Gati Forsin burst into the records room,her nager ringing with a strange combination of hope, excitement, andmisgiving. "Hajene, we have a pair of Gen visitors for you," she toldRital.

"Is it someone we know?" the channel asked, zlinning her closely inhopes of determining the reason for her odd reaction.

"Well, you know one of them, at least," she answered. "It's Gillum Mathison. He's brought a reporter from the Clarion with him."


 Read Chapter 11

 


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