Shock reverberated through the ambient. Even Alhonzo Jequihita was surprised that his devil's bargain had been accepted. Skaggit laughed aloud, his laterals extending to drink in the distress. "Well spoken, my soon-to-be-former Crown Prince!" he said, zlinning the young man avidly. "I wish all Gens were so accommodating at harvest. It would save us much trouble, if we didn't have to chase them down, first."
The entourage of renSimes who shared his table cheered in raucous agreement.
"Will no one stop this madness?" The Defender turned to Duke Pollmar. "Your Grace, you're related to His Highness, through your mother, his late majesty's younger sister. You've served the crown loyally and well for years. Will you do it one more service, and take your prince's place?"
Pollmar's face might have been carved from granite, although his nager betrayed his enjoyment of Korrin's predicament. "Give up my rank and title, to advance the cause of a treaty I do not support?" he demanded incredulously. "No. If His Highness wants this done, let him bear the consequences."
"Think what you are doing, my son," Defender Foley pleaded, turning back to Prince Korrin. "To lose the crown for such a reason—it is not right. You have a duty to Zillia."
"As it happens, I agree," Prince Korrin said. "But I can best serve Zillia by freeing its people from constant fear of attack. The treaty is their only hope, and it won't succeed unless I satisfy Clanleader Jequihita's demands. Whether that costs me the crown depends on you, Defender. I'll respect your verdict as one of the faithful must, but I will also do what's necessary to secure the treaty."
"No, Korrin, you will not."
A room full of astonished eyes turned to Rollin. The aide had not only called his prince by name, without using the customary honorific, but he spoke in the commanding tone of one who expects instant and unquestioning obedience. His nager was a jumble of absolute loyalty, anger, distress, and bone chilling terror. However, his voice remained steady as he continued, "If there must be a harvest, let it be me."
"No, you mustn't," the young Prince protested. "Not after what happened to you." Korrin's concern for his servant was genuine, and he took no offense at how he was being addressed.
"It's precisely for that reason that I must be the one," Rollin insisted.
"A noble offer," Alhonzo Jequihita conceded. "You have a commendable loyalty towards your prince, probably far more than he deserves. However, my terms specified a member of the royal family, not a lowly attaché."
A burst of fierce pride joined the clashing emotions battling for supremacy in Rollin's nager, and he turned on the Clanleader. "As to that," he retorted, "It's true that I've served in Zillia's foreign service for many years, but I was born Dinsmuir Jalvint Rollin Usgant, Crown Prince of Zillia."
A babble of excited conversation broke out. One voice emerged over the noise, as Protector Grigiano lodged an outraged protest. "But Crown Prince Dinsmuir was removed from the succession for contamination by Simes."
"Yes, I was attacked and harvested, fifteen years ago," the Gen Rital had known as Rollin admitted. "I ceded my throne to my brother because of it, but I remain the legitimate son of His Former Majesty King Jalvint and Sillavia his Queen. I'm a member of the royal family, and thus I satisfy the conditions of the Clanleader's monstrous demand."
Duke Pollmar shook his head in consternation. "But Prince Dinsmuir disappeared shortly after his recovery, and hasn't been heard of since. What proof can you offer that you are indeed he?"
"He doesn't lie," Prince Korrin said coldly. "He's my uncle, exactly as he claims. He chose to have a useful career in exile, rather than remain as a deposed Prince in Zillia. He's served our country with loyalty and distinction ever since, exactly as one would expect from an Usgant."
Alhonzo Jequihita seemed to be recovering his equilibrium. "If you'll forgive my saying so, Your Highness, you're hardly a disinterested party. Your word on the man's identity is suspect."
Nerina had spent most of the evening sitting quietly beside her husband at one of the more isolated tables, trying not to display her exhaustion too obviously. However, she left the protection of Quess's nager and stepped forward. "As a Tecton channel, I've no personal stake in whether your three Territories wage war for another hundred years, or choose to settle your differences peacefully," she reminded Jequihita. "Hajene Skaggit has demonstrated to you on a number of occasions how hard it is to lie to a channel—at least, if you don't wish the falsehood to be exposed at an embarrassing moment." There were a few muffled chuckles, and Jequihita blushed. "Prince Korrin spoke the truth. The aide we have known as Rollin is his uncle, the former Crown Prince Dinsmuir."
"For that matter," Quess pointed out helpfully, as he joined his wife, "there's a distinct family resemblance between them."
Jequihita frowned, but was unable to dispute the Donor's statement.
Defender Foley smiled with renewed hope. "If that's true, His Former Highness is indeed a proper substitute for his nephew under the terms of your promise, Clanleader Jequihita."
Rital could zlin the Amzonian's disappointment, and that of Duke Pollmar and the two Protectors as well, but they didn't protest. However much they might wish to see Prince Korrin removed from the succession, none of them wanted to risk open hostility with his father, King Madigan, who was likely to rule for years to come.
Madigan's son had no such inhibitions. "I honor you for your offer, Uncle, but it wouldn't be right to accept it," he protested. "You were so badly burned, fifteen years ago, that the physicians despaired of your survival. I've no right to ask you to face the harvest again."
"You didn't ask," Rollin—or rather, the former Crown Prince Dinsmuir—reminded him. "I volunteered."
"But only to rescue me from my own folly," Korrin pointed out. "I shouldn't have made such a rash promise. Let me at least bear the consequences of my own misjudgment."
"That's a generous sentiment," his uncle said. Several prominent facets of the splintered nager flared pride as Prince Dinsmuir placed a hand on his nephew's shoulder, although his determination didn't waver. "You're a worthy prince, and will someday be a worthy King."
"Then it's settled," Prince Korrin agreed, with a relieved smile. "I'll provide the harvest." The gleeful undertone was once more lurking underneath his genuine misgivings.
Zlinning the pair, Rital decided that the family resemblance extended to the two Gens' nagers, at least when it came to sheer, thick-headed stubbornness.
Prince Dinsmuir shook his head. "No, I'll provide the harvest. It's the paradox of being a leader, Korrin, that most often other people do the suffering for your bad decisions. It can't be helped. No general can lead an army if he's fighting for his life in the front lines, and so it's the common soldiers who die for his errors. Gladly, and in the mistaken belief that he knew what he was doing, all along."
"You shame me, Uncle."
"Good," came the retort. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Wasn't it you lecturing me on the dangers of excessive drinking, not long ago? I hope you'll be more circumspect, in the future."
The two exchanged a long, searching look, which was interrupted by a sardonic chuckle from Skaggit. "Well, we have a true novelty, here. Mostly, when Gens argue over who is to be harvested, they're trying not to be the one picked. This could be very interesting."
The Cordonan's followers laughed.
"There's no reason why we couldn't accomodate both of them," Uxtel suggested, extending her laterals to zlin the two Zillians. "We wouldn't want anybody to feel left out, after all."
"Yes, let's see how well a prince can take what his peasants endure," Oolana agreed. "Perhaps he's too refined for such a plebeian exercise."
Prince Korrin's back stiffened, and he turned to face the hecklers. "I'm not afraid of you—or of your channel."
"No, you're not afraid," Skaggit said. The Cordonan channel got to his feet and strolled a few steps closer to the two Zillian Gens, laterals extending ostentatiously from their sheathes as he zlinned. "Your uncle, however, is terrified. He's been harvested, while you're as virgin as a child. Perhaps he knows something you don't?"
He turned to consider Prince Dinsmuir. The Gen shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot under the scrutiny, but held his ground. Skaggit chuckled knowingly, evoking a spurt of alarm. "Since you so wish to be harvested, Gen, I'd be happy to accommodate you, at your convenience."
Prince Korrin stepped protectively between them. "With all due respect, Hajene Skaggit," he pointed out firmly, "you're not a Tecton channel, and my bargain with Clanleader Jequihita was for a Tecton style donation."
The elder prince's fragmented nager betrayed relief as Skaggit shugged in a display of unconcern, sheathed his laterals, and returned to his seat. The tension returned as his nephew turned to Quess and Nerina. "Hajene, we require the services of a Tecton channel. Would you honor us with your assistance?"
Prince Dinsmuir, who was distinctly pale, made no verbal objection to this suggestion. However, his frightened eyes met Rital's, pleading. The channel could almost hear the question that he would not ask.
Somehow, some way, and despite Rital's frank discussion with him about the human fallibility of any channel, including himself, the Gen had decided that Rital was "safe". Unfortunately, that judgment didn't extend to other Tecton channels. As a result, donating to Nerina would be more difficult for the already traumatized Gen than if Rital handled the matter, despite the senior channel's greater skill and experience.
Rital cleared his throat. "Hajene Nerina hasn't fully recovered from her illness," he found himself saying. "It would be best if I handled it."
Den's astonishment almost swamped the flickers of relief that flashed through Prince Dinsmuir's nager. "I give you my selyn willingly, Hajene," the Zillian lied, in a steady voice that belied his pallor. "I'm ready at your convenience."
The channel felt his ronaplin glands respond as the frightened Gen's attention roused his intil. He motioned Den closer before replying. "There are a few details we ought to discuss first," he answered.
There was a wave of interest from the spectators.
"In privacy," he added, motioning for the Gen to follow him. "If you would come with us?"
Without waiting for a response, he turned and swept out of the banquet hall, hoping against hope that the Gen would have sense enough not to follow.
There was nothing sensible about the situation, of course, and so Prince Dinsmuir did follow. The channel led the way down the hall to the first empty room, which happened to be the small office Ref shared with the Sime Center's groundskeeper, Alyce.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Rital turned on the Zillian. "Have you lost your mind?" he demanded, need and consternation combining to sharpen his voice. "Just what did you think you were doing, back there?"
Prince Dinsmuir took a nervous step away from the angry channel, but did not back down. "I was saving my nephew's crown," he answered. His firm voice defied the sick fear washing unevenly through his splintered nager.
The channel was not in the mood to deal with bravado. "Have you any idea what you're asking of me...and of yourself?"
"I think I've some idea," the Gen said, his tone apologetic but determined. The meek, deferential aide to Prince Korrin had disappeared, and with him the espionage agent, leaving behind a dignified and regal former Crown Prince. "I'm sorry that I involved you, if it's against your wishes, but I...don't think I could allow Hajene Nerina to touch me."
"She's more skilled than I am," Rital pointed out.
"You're a Tecton channel," the former Prince said, with mingled hope, trust, and apprehension. "You've skill enough, for this. You're not like Skaggit, or the Cordonan channelwho attacked me. I saw it myself, during the tour. That man never even twitched when you took the harvest from him."
"Tohm Seegrin's never been attacked and burned by a Sime," Den pointed out.
"He's also been donating every month for years, and is used to being handled by channels," added Rital. "None of which applies to you."
"You said that with practice, I'd be able to donate to a Tecton channel without being bothered, much."
"So I did, and so you could...after several months of intensive therapy," the channel qualified. "At the risk of belaboring the obvious, you haven't had several months of intensive therapy."
"Well then, I expect I'll be bothered," Prince Dinsmuir said with a slightly crooked smile. "That's unfortunate, but it can't be helped. It can't be worse than the last time a channel...did that."
"It could easily be almost as bad," Rital pointed out. He met the Gen's eyes with a steady gaze that he hoped would communicate his seriousness.
The Zillian gulped, the queasy sensation that settled in his stomach matching that in Rital's own. Unfortunately, he wasn't deterred. "Hajene, I know it's not sensible, but I trust you."
The channel shook his head. "You trust the promise I made, not to do anything to you without your permission," he corrected. It didn't seem the time to mention how much he'd been tempted to break that promise, when the Gen had been drugged and helpless. "What you aren't considering, is how you'll react if I do what you want. I'm a Sime, Prince Dinsmuir. I have just as many tentacles as any other Sime, including the one who almost killed you, and I use them in much the same manner when I take selyn from a Gen. Do you really want my tentacles touching you, gripping you, holding you still so that your selyn can be taken?"
Rital extended all eight handling tentacles to illustrate the point, and the Gen's attention was immediately riveted on them. A cascade of horrified fascination shuddered through his nager. Rital found himself zlinning the effect with interest, and edged closer to the protection of his cousin's nager. The Zillian's expression had remained oddly still. "You're trying to scare me," he accused, in a much calmer tone than Rital expected.
"No, I'm trying to warn you," the channel corrected, sheathing his tentacles now that his point had been made. "You have a full blown phobic reaction even to the sight of tentacles, and I can't lower your field without making a full transfer contact. Last week, it took a strong sedative before you could let me heal your ankle, even though you knew that no selyn would be taken."
Den gave his cousin the look that promised dire consequences, if a full explanation was not forthcoming at the earliest possible opportunity. However, the Donor chimed in loyally to support his channel. "I don't think Alhonzo Jequihita and Duke Pollmar would accept a donation by a heavily drugged Gen as fulfilling the terms of Prince Korrin's offer," he pointed out. "More's the pity."
"I couldn't give him a sedative for this in any case," Rital agreed. "Even if Jequihita would accept that, it might prevent me from zlinning something important." His voice softened as he turned back to the Zillian diplomat. "Your Highness, if I could give you the kind of donation experience that Tohm Seegrin has, I wouldn't hesitate to honor your request. But I'm not Hajene Skaggit. I don't enjoy terrorizing Gens—and that's what you're asking me to do to you."
"I know that, and I'm sorry," the Gen said. "You're not Zillian, and our dynastic quarrels are not, strictly speaking, your concern. But I swore to uphold my nephew's claim to the throne, even if it costs my life. How, then, can I refuse to withhold a harvest's worth of selyn? Unpleasant or not, this is my duty, and I can't shrink from it. You have no such obligation. There are others I could ask, Hajene Nerina among them. However, if I have to do this, I would prefer you to any other channel."
There was an undertone of pleading to the Gen's voice and nager. Rital suddenly felt thoroughly ashamed of himself. It wasn't Prince Dinsmuir's fault that his nephew had been manipulated into making such a rash promise. Both were acting to towards a goal that the Tecton, and Rital himself, supported fully.
Against that, the channel could only plead his own petty insecurities. It was true enough that he wasn't an expert in handling nerve damaged donors, and that a trained therapist could manage the task with more technical finesse. However, there was no such therapist in Clear Springs at present. The Prince's trust in Rital, misplaced or not, gave him the best chance of taking the donation without heaping more trauma on an already abused Gen.
To Rital's shame, it wasn't his lack of technical expertise, or the desire to spare the Gen unnecessary suffering, that was the primary reason for his reluctance. In need, and with a roomful of spectators diluting his Donor's support, his beast would be roused. It would enjoy Prince Dinsmuir's terror, urging him to go just a bit farther, to provoke the Gen a bit more. It would whisper that the pleasure would be so much greater if he added a touch of real pain, so easy when there was so much resistance, and who would even suspect that it might be deliberate, instead of an accident? With proper care, he could even suppress his anti-kill conditioning sufficiently to enjoy Rollin's pain and still avoid being shenned, even if it was functioning properly. Of necessity, its trigger relied to some extent on a channel's conscious assessment of a transfer related situation as dangerous to a Gen.
That the beast might win, revealing him in front of the world as the vicious predator that Gens feared, scared Rital more than anything else ever had. Because if he, a channel with an unblemished record, was such a monster, than the beast could be lurking in any Sime, and Unity itself was a cruel hoax. No Gen was safe from Sime attack, and even centuries of unending warfare was preferable to the false peace offered by the Tecton.
The part of Rital that was decent and human wanted to protect Prince Dinsmuir from his beast. However, if he refused to honor the Gen's free choice regarding the disposition of his selyn, how could Rital pretend to have any moral superiority over the Cordonan selyn thieves? If he refused the take the donation, and Nerina failed due to her illness, Prince Dinsmuir might even turn to Skaggit, rather then see his nephew desposed. Would the Gen really be better off under the tentacles of a Sime who didn't even try to rein in his darker impulses?
In Cordona, the beast Rital fought to cage ran free, and Gens had suffered the consequences for decades. The possibility of change rested on an impulsive wager that never should have been offered. Prince Dinsmuir had volunteered to face his greatest fear to salvage the situation. He trusted Rital, above any other channel, to get him through the ordeal. He would risk death or serious injury, if he had to work with Skaggit instead, but there could be little doubt that he would try. Could Rital himself do less?
Asked that way, there was only one answer.
"Very well," he agreed. "I'll do it."
He was rewarded by a wash of profound relief in the Gen's nager, which was followed almost immediately by a cascade of renewed trepidation. Rital knew he'd have to face that squarely soon, and his own reaction to it as well, but Den brought up another consideration first.
"This wager of your royal nephew's may bind the Duke and Alhonzo Jequihita, but how are Defender Foley and Guildmistress Halitono likely to respond?" the Donor asked. "They're already apprehensive enough about the changes required by the treaty. How will they react to a Tecton channel taking selyn from one of their own, who should by tradition be exempt from donating? Particularly when it wasn't something you would have chosen, except under duress? We've based our entire campaign on the argument that Tecton sponsored Sime Centers don't allow Gens to be pressured into donating against their wills."
Dinsmuir gave a bark of humorless laughter. "You must think we Zillians are a sorry lot, indeed. I can't blame you for that—we've certainly not shown to best advantage, in the past few weeks. Defender Foley is a fair and just man, and he witnessed my nephew's rash promise. He might not approve of it, or of my volunteering to take Korrin's place, but he won't blame you or your Tecton for the consequences."
"That's a relief," Den admitted. "I meant no insult, but many of the Gens here in Clear Springs wouldn't react well to nervousness in a Gen who was donating."
"We're used to that, in the South," Dinsmuir explained. "Truthfully, I think the Defender would be less disturbed by honest apprehension than by your law student's complete fearlessness." The Prince frowned. "I don't wish to disturb your local guests, though, and I'm not so certain about the Guildmistress, either. Her people value comfort, sometimes, above honor or loyalty."
"I'm afraid this won't be comfortable for you at all," Rital warned. "Your assailant left you with some very oddly patterned nerve scarring. That'll disrupt the selyn flow, in ways I can't predict ahead of time. A proper therapist with training in nerve disorders might be able to work around the scar tissue smoothly. If I try, I can't promise that you won't feel the selyn draw. Not as pain, exactly, but no less unsettling for that."
The Zillian shuddered in honest fear, although the channel's warning didn't lessen his determination. "It sounds dreadful," he admitted. After a moment's struggle, he succeeded in regaining control; not by facing his anxiety squarely and overcoming it, but by using courage to overrule it. "You'd better give me the rest of the bad news. I'll cope better if I know what to expect."
Rital, like most Tecton channels, didn't trust courageous Gens. However, he chose to take Prince Dinsmuir at his word. If a mere verbal description of what he faced could deter the Gen, it would be better for both of them to find out now. "I'll have to work more slowly than usual, because the scarring will impede my draw," he lectured, making his voice as matter-of-fact as he could. "It could take as long as five minutes, and subjectively, it will seem like a great deal longer. Even if I succeed in keeping my selyn flow too slow for you to feel consciously, you'll respond to it on a subconscious level, and that won't be fun."
"I understand," Prince Dinsmuir said. His voice was calm, but his nager was alternating between sick fear and courage, fatalistic resignation and the desire to escape. The cascade effect caused by the scarring created a chaotic jumble of patches displaying distinct and conflicting emotions, which never endured long enough to blend together into an integrated emotional response.
"Do you understand?" Rital countered, holding himself as steady as he could against the disorienting display. It irritated his need, even though he was trying to ignore it. He didn't want to consider how he'd react when he had to actively zlin the Gen, just yet. "However much you think you trust me," he continued, "the irrational part of you that sees berserkers behind every bush will be convinced that I'm killing you, and will react accordingly. You can't counter that sort of emotional upheaval with logic. Given time, and regular exposure, your subconscious could be convinced that I'm not a threat—that's a great deal of what the therapy I recommended is all about. However, we don't have time for that, if you're to donate today."
"Then I'll simply have to endure it as best I can," the Zillian asserted.
Despite his own growing apprehension, or perhaps because of it, Rital couldn't help but admire the Gen's courage and determination. "If it gets to be too much for you, I'll try to ease off and give you a rest," he offered. "I can't do it quickly, though. It's going to be hard enough to damp the eddies and crosscurrents created by those scars, without rapid changes in draw speed."
Den had been growing more and more concerned as the conversation proceeded. He moved closer and put aprotective hand on Rital's forearm. "Are you really planning to try this insane stunt, today of all days?" he muttered in Simelan. "Nerina's the diplomat; let her handle this."
"She's doesn't know anything more about this sort of problem than I do," Rital argued. "And she may not be in need, but she's just left her sickbed. She's not in any condition to take this on."
Den conceded the point with ill grace. "Can't you at least put it off until tomorrow, after I've gotten a transfer into you?"
"I don't think that would save the treaty," Rital pointed out, in the same language. "Besides, I want all the sensitivity I can get. His nerves are a mess."
"Is something the matter?" Prince Dinsmuir asked, with remarkable courtesy given their rudeness in conversing in front of him in a language he couldn't understand.
"Den doesn't want me to attempt something this difficult tonight," Rital explained. "I don't either, actually; it's been a tiring day. But it can't be helped."
"You told me that withstanding Gen fear is strenuous, even for a channel," the Zillian said. "It seems dishonorable to ask you to suffer, but I see no alternative."
"It's part of the job," Rital said, schooling his voice so that no possible hint of blame could be inferred. The Gen's fear of transfer would be uncomfortable enough, without adding guilt to it.
Prince Dinsmuir studied the channel thoughtfully, his interest in learning something new momentarily outweighing the shards of apprehension, determination, and devotion to duty. "Is that why your Tecton's literature for new donors emphasizes fearlessness, rather than courage, as the goal to be strived for? It seems strange to me. My people value courage more, since fearlessness can lead to rash actions."
"That is part of it," the channel admitted. "However, the primary reason is that courage is a way to cope with fear, not banish it. Fear increases resistance to selyn flow, whether or not it is faced courageously. A Gen who's not afraid is much harder to burn. Like most channels, I'm conservative enough to appreciate the extra safety margin."
"I'm afraid the best I can mange is courage," the Zillian admitted. "Even if it doesn't help you, though, perhaps I can put on a good enough act to avoid alarming Guildmistress Halitono and your Clear Springs guests. They are Gen, after all, and most Gens value courage above fearlessness, even though both courage and fearlessness frequently result in the same actions."
"That might work," Den agreed. "The greatest danger, diplomatically speaking, would be if you are seen to offer physical resistance."
"I hadn't considered that aspect of the situation," Rital admitted. The normal transfer grip made immobilizing a struggling Gen almost effortless, a minor irritant against the onslaught of panic that usually accompanied it. "I'd normally advise a frightened Gen not to try to control his fear; that leads to fewer surprises. However, in this instance, I think that valor may be the better part of discretion."
Den rolled his eyes at the quip, and Prince Dinsmuir chuckled, then sobered. "I can't do much about being afraid, we both know that. However, my actions are under my control. I think I can keep myself from fighting you physically."
Rital zlinned the Zillian closely. "How sure are you?" he asked, with sudden urgency. The glimmer of an idea had occurred to him, frightening in its risk. However, it would provide an extra margin of safety if his darker self overcome his control, and drove him to attack in earnest. Furthermore, it might let him avoid evoking in the Gen the trapped animal panic that aroused his beast in the first place. It all depended on whether the Gen's nerve would hold.
Prince Dinsmuir cocked his head, studying the channel in return. "Something tells me that's not an idle question," he said.
"It's not," the channel said. "I've noticed that the scarring is worst along the nerves in your arms. If I can avoid them, by making lateral contact with the nerves at your shoulders and neck instead..."
"Absolutely not!" vetoed Den, in English, this time. "You're crazier than he is, to even think of such a thing."
The Zillian looked from the channel to his agitated Donor, then back again. "What aren't you telling me?" he asked.
"A shoulder contact's less secure than the normal transfer grip, because it leaves your hands and arms free to move," Rital explained. "If you fight me—and you'll want to fight me—you could reach my tentacles."
"Would that be a problem?" Prince Dinsmuir wasn't being sarcastic; he was honestly confused. "I hadn't realized that Sime tentacles were particularly delicate."
Rital was forcibly reminded of the Gen's ignorance. "Well, yes, it'd be a problem if you managed to dislodge a lateral. It would interrupt the transfer. I told you I couldn't change my draw speed rapidly without creating unpredictable, and uncomfortable, currents across the scars. That's even more true for an unplanned change."
The Zillian looked at Den. "You disapprove of this suggestion."
"There's a reason why 'shen' is the most common swear word in Simelan," Den stated, glaring at his cousin. "The backlash could put him in the infirmary for a week, at the very least. Lateral injuries can be fatal."
"But think of the benefits," Rital argued. "If I avoid the worst of the scars, there'd be far less discomfort to Prince Dinsmuir."
The channel was warming to the idea, the more he considered it. He wasn't any happier than his cousin about the risk of being shenned. Many channels went their entire careers without being forced to that extremity, and he'd gladly have been one of them. Unfortunately, as he saw it, that risk was about the same whichever transfer contact he used. If he used the conventional contact, the beast would be fully aroused, goaded by the Gen's fear and his own hard need. The disastrous attempt to Qualify Vasthan had proved how uncertain his control was, when he was put to the test. He'd managed to shen himself then, and not hurt his Donor, but with the memory still raw, he wasn't sure that he'd have the nerve to inflict that agony upon himself again.
If Prince Dinsmuir's arms remained unrestrained, then if the worst happened—if the beast broke free of Rital's control and he couldn't shen himself—the Gen would still have a chance to escape. The Zillian might be hurt by the backlash, but he'd be alive, and if Rital survived, the channel wouldn't be junct. Whether he should be allowed to continue working after such a disaster, particularly out-Territory, would be a matter for wiser heads than his own to decide.
"It's far too much risk, for too little gain," Den stated. His mouth set in the mulish obstinence of a Donor whose channel must be diverted from some harebrained folly.
Now that it was too late, Rital regretted that he hadn't badgered his cousin until the Donor believed how serious his problem was. If Den truly understood how weak Rital's control was, the Donor might support his proposal, or at least leave the decision to the channel. Unfortunately, even if he kept the discussion in Simelan, the Donor would react strongly to reopening that particular subject. Prince Dinsmuir was no fool, and if he though something was wrong with Rital, it would make the donation more frightening. Quite apart from the humanitarian issue, Rital had a strong personal interest in making the process as easy as possible on the Gen.
"It's not so risky as all that," he countered, keeping his voice as clinically professional as he could. Then he spoiled the effect by adding, "Besides, it's my job to determine what risks are appropriate, not yours."
Prince Dinsmuir, however, seemed to have his own opinion about Rital's proposal, or perhaps he was simply more inclined to trust a fellow Gen. "I see no reason for you to run a greater risk than absolutely necessary, Hajene Madz," he said. "There are limits to any man's courage, and I don't want you to suffer if I've misjudged mine."
Den was quick to seize the advantage. "You see?" he demanded. "Even His Highness agrees the stunt isn't worth it."
Prince Dinsmuir knew nothing about transfer mechanics, and couldn't truly understand what Rital had proposed, much less why. The Gen was thus in no position to judge what the risks were, much less whether they were appropriate. However, to overrule the Gen's decision would reduce his self-confidence when it was critical for him to believe in his ability to handle the situation.
"Very well," the channel agreed reluctantly. A secret, hateful part of him, that wanted to live at any price, was glad that he wouldn't have to risk having his laterals mauled by a panicked Gen. "We'll use the standard contact. I just hope you don't end up regretting your decision to donate."
"I already do," the Zillian said with a wry smile. "But I'd regret it much more if I did not donate, and my country was left to the mercy of Duke Pollmar, for want of an heir in the direct line."
"In that case, we'd better get started," Rital said, gesturing towards the door.
A knot of cold apprehension twisted Prince Dinsmuir's nager, but the Gen's voice stayed level as he agreed, "Yes, I suppose we should."
Read Chapter 16
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