TEST OF COURAGE

by
Mary Lou Mendum

Chapter 11

A Narrow Escape

"Gillum Mathison is here?" Rital didn't control his trepidation in time to prevent Skaggit from flaring contemptuous scorn. "What does he want?"

"He says he's here to defy the boycott staged for his benefit by donating selyn," the receptionist said. "And he's brought Wilda Orson along as a witness, to make sure the whole city knows about it."

The scorn evaporated from Skaggit's nager, to be replaced by a haze of confusion. Rital, who was just as bewildered by this paradoxical gesture as the Cordonan, still had enough presence of mind to gloat. "You see the advantages of relying on 'charity'?" he asked the other channel. "It sometimes takes a while, but even the most unlikely Gens can come around, if they don't feel threatened."

"Justify your cowardice with platitudes if you wish," Skaggit said, with a good imitation of his usual arrogance. "It might have worked with this one Gen." The admission seemed to pain the Cordonan. "However, you've a long way to go before your Collectorium brings in the selyn yield your superiors in Valzor expect."

Perhaps realizing that this rejoinder was weak, the Cordonan channel beat a strategic retreat before Rital could respond, muttering a vague excuse about preparing a report on the progress of the negotiations for his colleagues on the Council of Channels.

Rital had boasted that the local Gens didn't feel threatened by him, but he felt threatened enough himself to take precautions. The normal apprehensions of a new donor could make taking first donations a challenge. Thanks to Skaggit, Gillum Mathison would likely have greater misgivings than the average volunteer. The savage beast lurking within Rital had already tried to harm Mathison once. It wasn't likely to remain quiescent, if exposed to the Gen's panic again.

Of course, that was assuming Mathison would panic. A competent channel could do a great deal to prevent even an nervous donor from reaching that stage. Rital considered himself something of a specialist in Gen handling, after so many years in Clear Springs. It would take time to work with Mathison until the Gen was steady, but it wasn't as if there were other donors who would be kept waiting. The professional challenge began to overcome Rital's misgivings, as he planned his approach.

"Gati, could you find Den for me?" he asked the receptionist. The Donor's steady nager would help reinforce his control, while the presence of a fellow Gen tended to be reassuring to out-Territory visitors.

"He's helping Hajene Nerina with Bethany's prenatal training," the renSime answered. "Sosu Quess didn't think it was fair to leave the diplomatic mess to young Vasthan and Esparra Daybee."

"No, don't interrupt them," Rital agreed hastily. "Nerina requires Den's support more than I do." The channel also knew that if he pulled his cousin away from Nerina for a simple donation, she'd have some sharp questions to ask about why he'd set such a priority. The same thing would happen if he pulled Vasthan out of the treaty negations. He didn't want to explain why he was afraid to face Mathison alone.

The Center had two Third Order Donors, but they'd both given transfer within the past two days. Even just before transfer, their fields were not strong enough to help Rital if he got into trouble. There was only one available Gen who might do the channel some good. "Why don't you bring me Toljee, instead, then?" he asked.

The Cordonan Donor had by now mastered a number of the basic Donor skills which the Tecton took for granted, but which his Cordonan masters had never permitted him to learn. With those skills had come a new confidence in his ability to handle himself. He could hold a steady support, and knew how to shen a channel in an emergency. Best of all, Rital could plausibly claim that he wanted the young man for training purposes, rather than because he believed a Donor's assistance might actually be required.

When Toljee arrived a few minutes later, he zlinned faintly apprehensive at the unexpected summons. "You wanted to see me, Controller Madz?" he asked. He glanced surreptitiously around the records room, then relaxed when he saw Skaggit wasn't there.

"Yes, I did," Rital answered, with a reassuring smile. "I was wondering if you'd be interested in helping me out for a while?"

The young Cordonan felt surge of curiosity, quickly followed by resignation, as if he were afraid to hope. "Help you?" he asked. "There's something you want to know about Cordona, perhaps?"

"Not exactly," the channel said. "Sosu Den's tied up with another task, and I require the services of a Donor."

The young Gen's nager brightened with joy, then faded as his forehead wrinkled with concern. "I have a great deal to learn before I can equal the least of your Tecton Donors."

"Don't underestimate your abilities," Rital advised. "You've been deliberately kept ignorant of many skills Tecton Donors take for granted, it's true. However, Den says you learn very quickly, and that you have decent control, although you don't use it the same way we do."

Toljee straightened with pride. It was obvious that he wasn't used to receiving compliments. "If you want my help, I'd be honored to assist you in any way I can."

"Thank you," the channel said. "This should be well within your abilities. For the technical part of it, all you'll have to do is hold your field steady and relaxed. Outside of that, you'll have to do some acting."

"Acting?" The Gen's eye's sparkled with interest.

"Yes. I've got a difficult donation to take-a Gen who's been traumatized. It'll go smoother with another Gen present to help explain things to him."

Toljee's nager collapsed into flatness, all the pride and interest snuffed out in an instant. Just before the Cordonan's odd style of control took full effect, Rital thought he zlinned a trace of disillusionment.

"I forget sometimes that you're a channel," he said, his voice almost as flat as his nager. "I suppose even the Tecton has to place its highest priority on taking care of its renSimes."

"Well, of course we collect selyn for the benefit of our renSimes," Rital agreed, more than a little bewildered. "A train doesn't die of attrition if its battery isn't filled, after all."

"How do you find Gens for your 'difficult' donations?" Toljee asked, his nager still utterly flat. "Do you select likely prospects from among your volunteers? Do you tell them ahead of time? Or do you hunt, after all?"

"What arrant nonsense is this?" the channel demanded, then stopped himself as the young Cordonan flinched. Need was making him irritable, and his worry about whether he could handle Mathison wasn't helping matters.

"Every donation the Tecton takes is voluntary, and taken with the informed consent of the Gen," he explained in a calmer voice. "Sometimes, though, we get a volunteer who's suffered some trauma that makes donation difficult. In this case, Gillum Mathison has good reason to be nervous about channels, but has decided to donate anyway. It will be our job to make it as easy as possible for him."

"Oh." Toljee's nager came to life again, displaying heartfelt relief. "I thought you meant-something different. What do you want me to do?"

Rital wondered what the young Gen had thought he was being asked to help with, but decided not to ask. Knowing how the Cordonans went about selyn collection, the channel wasn't sure he really wanted to know.

"Mostly, I want you to show him, by your actions, that you aren't afraid of me, and that he doesn't have to be afraid of me, either. He may have questions that are best answered by another Gen, and you should answer those. Otherwise, you should let me do the talking. It will help to build his trust in me, and that will make the donation less frightening for him. He's been through Sime related trauma. I want this to be a completely different sort of experience for him."

The young Donor considered Rital's request for a moment. "Isn't Gillum Mathison the Gen Hajene Skaggit tried to harvest?" he asked. "The one who started the donation boycott when the Tecton wouldn't punish him for it?"

"It was Mathison's sister who called for the boycott, but yes, it was on his behalf," Rital agreed. "That he chose to come here, and with a reporter, suggests he has doubts about his sister's actions. He's giving us a chance to show him, and through him the rest of the city, why the boycott should be dropped. However, it won't work unless we can make the donation a positive experience for him, and for the reporter who came with him, as well."

"Sosu Den said that one of a Tecton Donor's duties is to help clean up his channel's messes. If Skaggit sparked the donation boycott, I guess that means I should help you stop it."

Rital was less than pleased with his cousin's irreverent phrasing, but he couldn't argue with the results, this time. "That's the spirit," the channel said. He gave the young Gen an encouraging clap on the shoulder of his new shirt. It was made of turquoise silk, although the cut followed a conservative out-Territory fashion. It wasn't close to being a Tecton uniform, but there was no time to find more appropriate clothing. It would have to do. "We'll make a Tecton Donor out of you, yet."

Toljee's reaction to Rital's encouragement was ambiguous; a strange mixture of ambition, frustration, and homesickness. The channel wondered about it, but there was no time to ask. Their clients were waiting.

***

Gillum Mathison and Wilda Orsen were the only occupants of the Collectorium's waiting room. Wilda Orsen was a young Gen, at most five years past establishment. She was wandering around the waiting room with professional curiosity, inspecting it methodically in search of background material. Her handbag bulged with copies of the pamphlets, which were set out on the tables.

As Rital entered, the reporter paused in front of a poster showing a pregnant Sime woman. A cheerful, pampered toddler clasped one of her handling tentacles for support, while another tentacle reached to caress his face. "YOUR DONATION IS THE GIFT OF LIFE" read the caption underneath in inch high, yellow-green letters. As propaganda, it was too blatant for Rital's taste. However, the poster showed tentacles in a context out-Territory Gens found relatively non threatening. That helped set a positive tone for their interactions with the channels.

Unlike the young reporter, Mathison wasn't taking an interest in the decorations. He sat in a chair on the far side of the room, staring at a blank patch of wall. Despite the gesture of trust implied by his presence, it was easy to zlin the tension underlying his determination.

Gesturing for Toljee to stay close, the channel stopped at a prudent distance from both Gens. "Welcome to the Clear Springs Sime Center, Mr. Mathison, Ms. Orsen," he greeted them quietly. "This is Toljee; he is a Donor."

Mathison gave a start as Rital spoke, then relaxed fractionally as he saw the channel was still a "safe" distance away. "Hajene, Sosu," he returned the greeting, with a cautious bob of his head. He hesitated, looking Rital over from head to foot. His gaze finally came to rest on the channel's forearms, where the sheathed tentacles formed raised lumps from elbow to wrist. He swallowed hard, and his determination wavered.

The channel didn't have to read minds to know what the Gen was thinking. He'd zlinned it before, in many virgin out-Territory donors. It was the psychological adjustment from thinking about donating to a channel in the abstract, to facing an actual Sime who proposed to take his selyn. Mathison was wondering whether he really wanted to let Rital touch him, after all.

The channel held still, automatically trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. He couldn't blame the man for having doubts, under the circumstances. After all, Rital didn't trust himself without a Donor's supervision, where Mathison was concerned. He'd come closer to taking the Gen by force than he wanted to admit, even to himself. That he hadn't actually done so was no credit to his control, as Tecton channels weren't supposed to want to hurt Gens in the first place. A part of him still wanted to hurt this Gen, zlin his field shatter with terror as he knew he faced death. To the channel's shame, the beast didn't even have the excuse of hard need, this time.

Patiently, Rital waited for his guest to make up his mind. Pressuring him wouldn't help, even if it had been ethical. Besides, it was better for all concerned if Mathison confronted his misgivings now, while the Gen was still far enough away that his field had a minimal effect on Rital's.

A few moments later, Mathison's nager firmed with resolve again, and the Gen stood. With a glance at the reporter, who was watching them both with interest, he squared his shoulders and announced, "Hajene, I don't hold with what my sister's been doing, telling people not to donate. It won't put that foreigner in jail. As I see it, it only punishes the innocent, particularly my neighbors who have no power because there's no selyn for the batteries."

"There's some truth to that," Rital agreed. His own concern was for the renSimes who required transfers. He remembered Gati's purely Sime savagery as she attacked him during her transfer. It was his job as a channel to protect Gens from Sime predation. If he was successful, his guests would never learn how easily the veneer of civilization could be ripped from any Sime, at the onset of need.

Mathison glanced at Orsen again, to make sure she was recording his words for posterity. "When the innocent are harmed, it seems to me that a man ought to take action. So I've come to donate, and if Ms. Orsen does her part, I've hopes that others will follow."

"That's extremely generous of you, Mr. Mathison," Rital said, with real warmth. "There are many who wouldn't feel obligated to act personally, under the circumstances." The channel zlinned with interest that verbalizing his reasons for donating had helped to make the Gen more confident of his decision. Making a mental note of this possibly useful information, he invited the two Gens to accompany himself and Toljee back to the donation rooms.

These were small cubicles, just large enough to hold a desk and a transfer lounge. They weren't intended to accommodate more than one channel and a donor. Four people was definitely cozy, but at least the reporter wouldn't be able to claim that she'd been too far away to follow the proceedings.

Rital selected the largest of the rooms, which gained an extra foot of space due to its location opposite a supply cupboard. It was painted a soothing robin's egg blue that matched the comfortably faded floral print on the transfer lounge. He ushered the visitors inside, then sat behind the slightly battered desk.

Toljee stood near the doorway, looking lost. The channel caught his eye and pointed surreptitiously to a stool which was placed strategically beside his chair. Relieved, the Cordonan Donor took his place, while Mathison sat in the visitor's chair across the desk from them. Orsen sat on the transfer lounge, after inspecting the piece of furniture curiously.

Rital opened the top drawer of the desk, and fished out blank copies of the Tecton's pre-donation paperwork. "Before we begin, there are a few administrative matters to take care of," he explained apologetically, sorting through the forms.

Mathison snorted. "You can't do anything these days, without filling in some ten page form in triplicate."

The channel chuckled. "It's not quite that bad," he reassured the Gen, "but the Tecton is a bureaucracy. The worst is the medical history, it's four pages. Besides that, there's a record for our accounting office, and of course the standard consent form. The latter two are only one page each." He pushed the bundle of paper across the desk.

Mathison reached for the forms and turned them around so he could inspect them, shaking his head in mock exasperation. Absently, he lifted his left hand and retrieved a pen from his shirt pocket, then began working his way through the medical history form.

Rital preferred to ask the medical questions verbally, when he had the time. It helped to build rapport, and there was less chance of getting inaccurate information due to the sometimes confusing phrasing of the form. However, some of the questions were of necessity a bit intrusive. This Gen was already giving up a lot of privacy by having Orsen witness his donation. There was no reason to expose him to the further indignity of having the details of his physical condition reported to the entire city.

Wilda Orsen was eyeing the forms with professional curiosity. Fortunately, she was sitting at the wrong angle to read them, or Mathison's responses. "I believe I can understand the purpose of accounting records and consent forms," she said, her writing implement poised over her notepad, "but why a medical history? That's something I'd associate more with a doctor's office than a Sime Center."

Rital smiled. "Actually, in Sime Territory, channels do provide medical services, much as doctors do on your side of the border. However, that form is required because there are some medical conditions which can affect a Gen's ability to give selyn."

"Now, that's interesting," the reporter commented, eyeing the form a second time. "I don't know of any disease that prevents a berserker from attacking. What makes a donation different?"

Rital wished that the reporter hadn't mentioned berserkers. A reminder of that perennial out-Territory hazard might start Mathison's thoughts going in the wrong direction. "Oh, many problems can be worked around, but it helps to know about them beforehand," the channel replied. He absentmindedly rattled off a few examples for the reporter as he surreptitiously zlinned Mathison.

Like most Gens, the power plant worker showed no particular reaction to the questions on the first page. These dealt with easy, noncontroversial matters such as his full name, age, address, and occupation. The Gen left the space for date of establishment blank. That was no surprise; the Clear Springs Sime Center was only three years old. Before it had opened, the only way for an adolescent Gen prove that he had established would have been to take the eight hour train ride to the Valzor Sime Center. Most Clear Springs adolescents had chosed to declare themselves Gen by default, when they passed the age of changeover without developing tentacles.

The Gen's pace slowed as he worked his way through the second and third pages of the form. These addressed in detail the various physical problems that Rital had already sketched out for Wilda Orsen. The channel stole a glance at the page, but saw nothing that looked alarming, as far as he could tell upside down and at a distance. That boded well. Mathison was apparently healthy enough to endure a certain amount of stress without physical harm, if that became necessary.

Rital wished he were as confident about his own ability to withstand stress. He braced himself as Mathison reached the fourth page of the form. This page was dedicated to pinpointing any psychological problems that might affect a Gen's behavior during a donation.

As the channel had feared, his client's nager did not react auspiciously to the psychological questions. Any lingering doubts that Mathison feared donating, were settled when he reacted even more strongly to the intentionally blunt language of the consent form. However, the Gen signed it firmly enough, committing them both to the donation. Rital felt a dark attraction rise up within him in response, and knew that he didn't dare let this Gen panic while he was in lateral contact. Pasting a pleasant smile on his face, he scooted his chair a bit closer to Toljee and set to work.

It was a simple technique, in theory, used frequently by the more accomplished animal trainers. The best way to teach an animal to accept something new and frightening, for instance, a young horse to allow a saddle on his back, was to take it in easy stages. Every time the animal stood firm despite its fear, and cooperated, it was rewarded by an immediate relief from the stress. By the time the trainer actually placed the saddle on the horse and tightened the girth, the animal had already developed the habit of obedience, and a useful degree of confidence that its trainer wouldn't subject it to anything which it couldn't endure.

Of course, in actual practice, the technique required skill, excellent timing, and a great deal of patience. Moreover, despite Skaggit's opinion to the contrary, Gens were not the next best things to animals. Unlike horses, out-Territory Gens viewed fear of any sort as shameful. A certain amount of subtlety was required to avoid inflicting unintentional humiliation, especially when privacy was not possible.

Rital began by looking over the medical history form. He asked a few general, nonthreatening questions about the badly broken right arm Mathison claimed to have suffered in childhood. When the Gen was responding comfortably, he moved on to the potential problems on the fourth page.

Mathison was less comfortable with these questions, as was to be expected. He was reluctant at first to discuss his fears, but Rital persisted. On the fourth try, the Gen stopped trying to evade the issue and admitted to having persistant nightmares about being attacked by Simes. Rital rewarded this honesty by immediately backing off a bit, steering the conversation to a more general discussion of how common such problems were among out-Territory citizens.

As soon as Mathison's disturbance eased, and the Gen was listening again, Rital began to describe a typical donation. This time, it only took two tries to get the Gen to face down his fear, at least in theory. The channel persisted just a little longer than he had before, then diverted the discussion again, this time into an overview of how the collected selyn was used. As soon as Mathison began to relax, he allowed his handling tentacles to emerge from their sheaths in a natural appearing gesture that emphasized his point.

Both out-Territory Gens startled, and Rital wished longingly for Den's steady, supportive presence. Toljee's nager wasn't strong enough to provide complete protection, even if he had truly understood what the channel was trying to accomplish. Still, despite the channel's discomfort, the technique was working. As the dance of advance and retreat continued, Mathison put up less and less resistance to following Rital's lead, even when it frightened him...and the Gen was discovering that when he faced it squarely, what he feared wasn't so intolerable, after all.

By the time Rital finally asked the two visiting Gens to switch places, so that Mathison could lie down on the transfer lounge, the new donor-to-be took the change almost in stride. He flared anxiety again when the channel approached, but it subsided when Rital did nothing more threatening than sit beside him.

The channel allowed himself to feel a guarded optimism, but that didn't make him foolhardy. He caught Toljee's eye, and with a surreptitious tentacle gesture directed the Cordonan Donor to bring his stool and sit close by. Den would have moved without prompting, of course.

Rital was suddenly struck with the conviction that his Donor had deliberately abandoned him to the mercy of an incompetent substitute for a critical functional. It was completely irrational, of course; he had specifically told his cousin that his services would not be required in the Collectorium that morning. He'd wanted to avoid giving his cousin a chance to get bored and start asking inconvenient questions. It was his own fault, not Den's, that the Donor wasn't present. His own skill would have to get him through the donation.

The channel wasn't sure that his control was up to the task, but he was very sure that he didn't want either Mathison or Orsen to pick up on his self doubt. Pasting a calmly reassuring smile on his face, he held out his hands to the power plant worker, tentacles sheathed. He was vaguely surprised to note that they were completely steady.

"Put your hands in mine when you're ready to donate," he instructed, in a voice that somehow managed to sound quietly confident.

The Gen hesitated, his conspicuously zlinnable misgivings reinforcing Rital's own, giving power to the dark Sime desires that Skaggit had awakened. For a long moment, the channel dared to hope that Mathison would back down, and call the donation off. However, the preparatory work had been effective; the Gen had developed the habit of obedience. Blindly trusting, he reached out and placed his hands in Rital's.

Toljee's nager flared astonishment at the achievement. It wasn't exactly the vote of confidence in his abilities that Rital required, just then. At least the Cordonan had the sense not to express his surprise out loud. Perhaps there was something to be said for Skaggit's policy that Gens should remain silent unless answering a direct question, after all.

Cautiously, Rital slid his hands down to the Gen's wrists and let his handling tentacles extend. He used his hands and voice to steady Mathison as the appendages wrapped themselves gently but securely around the Gen's arms.

The channel expected a strong negative reaction. In the power plant, Mathison's peak terror had occurred when he discovered that he couldn't pull free of Rital's tentacle reinforced hold. However, this time the Gen wasn't pulling away, and so he didn't feel trapped. Instead, Rital got a reaction more typical of non-traumatized out-Territory Gens:

"Why, they're not slimy at all, are they?"

From Toljee's nageric guffaw, the Gens of Amzon and Zillia didn't share that particular urban legend with their northern cousins. Fortunately, the Cordonan Donor's back was towards the reporter, and Mathison was too busy inspecting the tentacles wrapped around his arms to notice the younger Gen rolling his eyes in adolescent disgust at adult foolishness.

For his part, Rital was having trouble keeping his laterals completely sheathed, and they were coated with more ronaplin than was required for a simple donation. An in-Territory, Tecton raised Gen might have recognized this as a sign of unusual stress, incompatible with his state of need. Such a Gen might wonder why a First Order channel was nervous about what should be, a routine task.

Mathison and Wilda Orsen knew nothing about what was normal for a Tecton channel taking a donation. Neither did Toljee, strictly speaking. They all accepted the channel's chuckle at face value, forced though it was.

"No, they're not slimy. Only the laterals are coated with selyn conductors. See?"

Mathison gasped as the slender laterals emerged from their sheaths and slithered into place along the nerves of his forearms. "That's the most peculiar sensation," he said, his voice trembling. "It feels like they're going right through the skin."

"They're not," the channel reassured him, wishing that Toljee wasn't so distracted. What he required was solid Donor's support, not a wavering semi-commitment. "That's just the ronaplin." He continued talking for a moment, giving the Gen time to adjust to the lateral contact. When the channel judged that Mathison was as stable as he was going to get, he asked, "Are you ready to try donating now?"

"Yes, I am," the Gen said, with a firmness that belied the pallor of his complexion.

"Remember, just relax as much as you can, and hold still until I'm done," Rital instructed. The Gen nodded. Hoping forlornly for the best, the channel leaned forward to make lip contact.

Mathison tensed, pressing backwards into the lounge. Rital held firm against the flood of apprehension, feeling the beast poised to attack as the Gen realized his acute vulnerability. The channel held position for a moment, not daring to proceed until he could be sure of his control. Toljee was behaving like a spectator, not a Donor, as if he'd never supported a channel during a donation in his life. Perhaps he hadn't. Skaggit had been prepared to strip Mathison without a Donor's assistance, in the power plant.

Even as the channel debated whether he should refuse the donation entirely, the Gen's apprehension began to fade, and with it, the intensity of Rital's inappropriate feelings. Puzzled, he zlinned more deeply, and realized what had happened.

The careful work of the past half hour had had its intended effect. Mathison had been thoroughly conditioned to expect that any frightening thing that happened here, if he faced it squarely instead of resisting, would be followed almost immediately by a partial relief from the stress. When Rital had not provided such a reward, the Gen had created it himself, by letting go of his fear.

He wasn't a Donor, of course, and he had no real conception of what he was doing. Nor could half an hour's clandestine therapy undo a lifetime of anti-Sime conditioning. The relief was incomplete, and Rital had no idea how long the effect would last. However, while it did, it left a window of opportunity.

The channel zlinned again, noting the long healed break in the right arm, and the greater nerve development in the Gen's dominant left arm. Carefully compensating for both, so that no hint of sensation would startle Mathison and disrupt the delicate balance, he set to work gleaning selyn from the shallowest, GN-3 level.

He was almost finished when the Gen's nerve began to fail. The underlying apprehension spiked, and was joined with a small but rapidly growing trapped animal desperation. Rather than risk having the beast test its chains, Rital hastily brought the donation to a close.

Mathison wilted bonelessly back onto the transfer lounge as the channel released him. His depleted field radiated the profound relief of someone who has narrowly escaped death or disaster. The Gen closed his eyes and took several long gulps of air, struggling to regain his composure.

"That was more difficult than I thought it would be," he admitted ruefully, when he could speak again. "It wasn't anything you did," he assured the channel hastily, with a quick glance at the reporter, who was scribbling on her pad. "It's just that..." The Gen's voice trailed off, and his face reddened with shame.

Out-Territory Gens valued courage very highly, but because they couldn't zlin the difference, they frequently confused it with fearlessness. In their view, a person who stood firm in the face of his greatest fear deserved great admiration, but only if there were no Gen perceptible symptoms of distress or verbal admissions of fear.

Rital couldn't understand that logic, himself. However, Mathison's attempt to break the boycott might not work, if the reporter branded him a coward.

"You did very well," he reassured the Gen. "Donating goes against everything you've been taught, about how to keep yourself safe from Sime attack. Gen instinct is to pull away from a Sime's touch, and seek safety in distance. That's not a trivial thing to overcome, by a simple act of will."

"There are plenty of people right here in Clear Springs who've been doing it every month, and don't think anything of it." Mathison shook his head in wonder, then admitted, "I don't see how they manage it, myself."

The Gen's reaction was honest, and not unusual in a first time, out-Territory donor. It was not the sort of coverage Rital wanted in the Clarion, however.

"Donating gets easier with practice," he explained. "Most Gens become quite comfortable with the process by their third or fourth time. It was difficult for you today because your instincts told you that you were in life threatening danger, and you had no personal experience with which to counter them. It didn't help that you actually were attacked, just two weeks ago."

Mathison shuddered. Fortunately, his field was now low enough not to attract the attention of Rital's beast. "I thought that Sime was going to kill me," the Gen said.

"He intended that you should," the channel admitted, his own voice darkening with remembered anger.

A trained Tecton Donor like Den would have immediately projected calm, to remind the channel that his behavior was unwise, and to help him regain his equilibrium. Toljee, however, had Skaggit related traumas of his own. He was also much more hesitant about trying to affect a channel's field, outside of the strict limits of a training session. Instead, it was the frission of alarm in their guests' fields which reminded the channel that showing anger made him appear dangerous to out-Territory Gen eyes. He hastily changed the subject.

"In many way, Mr. Mathison, you're in the position of the soldiers in the New Washington Army a century ago. They chose to honor the spirit as well as the letter of their alliance with the Nivet forces, and in doing so, they secured a better future for all of us."

"But they were heroes," Wilda Orsen objected.

"Of course they were," Rital agreed. "What's a hero, but an ordinary person who chooses to do something extraordinary, simply because it has to be done and there's no one else to do it?"

The channel smiled, warming to his metaphor. "Even the circumstances are similar, if you think about it. The Simes of the Nivet Army were facing a selyn shortage, temporary but severe, and had to look beyond their usual donors. That shortage was caused by weather, not disease, but the effect was the same. They couldn't fight, or even survive the winter, without help from Gens who hadn't previously volunteered to give selyn. It was fortunate for all of us, that enough Gens stepped forward to relieve the selyn shortage, and allow the combined armies to achieve victory."

Rital deliberately chose to overlook a few minor details in his historical account; for instance, that the Gen soldiers had been ordered to donate or face charges of mutiny. Or, that the Gen Army's commanders themselves had been blackmailed into giving those orders, when Zeor's Sectuib, Klyd Farris, refused to relieve the Gens' equally urgent food shortage until they cooperated.

"The Gen Army had been campaigning against the Norwest Raiders for months," the channel continued. "Like Mr. Mathison, they knew what it's like to be attacked by a Sime, and understood the difference between that and a donation. Still, the historical evidence suggests that it was difficult for many of them to let a channel take their selyn. Why else would we bother to remember what they did every Faith Day?"

"It's sobering to think how easily things could have gone terribly wrong, and shattered the fragile alliance between our Territories," Orsen said.

"Yes, it is," the channel agreed.

None of the Gens present suspected that he wasn't referring to the original Faith Day.


 Read Chapter 12

 


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