The cliff road was deserted. And, in the early morning light everything looked clean and bright. In the distance the Sun glistened down on both the hard granite, making the rockface look like black diamonds, together with the colonies of Alpine flowers that grew there; and far below the sound of waves breaking against the beach could just be heard, along with the sad cry of a lone seagull.

        Suddenly, into this idyllic scene trudged the weary figure of a fisherman, setting out on a long day's hard work on board one of the small boats down in the harbour; unaware that he was being watched, and by whom.

        As the man drew close to where the other was hiding he stopped to look around, almost as though he sensed that he was not alone. Then with a shrug of his broad shoulders he continued on his way.

Moments later the scuff of feet on the shingle path behind him, made him stop once more and turn, but it was too late. Tentacles, dripping wet, lashed around his muscular arms and a face – almost feral in its twisted need – found his lips in the age-old parody of a lover's kiss…


Three months later….

        'You really don't have to treat me with kid gloves you know.'

        'I'm sorry.'

        'You're doing it again.' Jason stated as he threw himself down onto the sofa and stared up at his friend in near exasperation, a grim smile touching his lips.

        'What do you want me to say? That I'm NOT sorry about what happened? Because that would be a lie! That I wish I could do more to help you? Of course I wish that.' Vidal bit his lip and then went on, 'but things can't go on like this. It happened, and no one could be more shocked than me, and the Channel who was monitoring him. You read the report the same as I did; right up to a few hours before, no one had detected any change at all. Shen it. No one could have looked more Gen than him. You know that.'

        Jason sighed. 'Yes I know that. But I can't help thinking that if they'd had a really good First stationed in the islands instead of a third rate Second, something might have been detected earlier.'

        'That's rather harsh… Look there are numerous documented cases similar to your brother's. Youngsters who looked Gen right up to changeover itself…' Vidal moved to kneel beside his Companion one tentacle moving to lift his face so that he could look into the familiar eyes.

        For a few seconds Jason stared back at him defiantly before he finally said: 'You're right. Intellectually, I know that, of course I do. But I keep remembering the look on their faces when Dad told me what had happened. They blamed me. I could see that. I should have been there… we should have been there. Dad did say he wanted us to visit them. If I had heeded that….'

        'Yes, if you had heeded… And what would that have achieved, Jason? You, yourself, could not have detected any sign of change in your sibling. And me? Yes I'm a First, that is true enough, but I'm NOT a working Channel and in all honesty I can't say that I would have been able to detect anything either! That's the hard truth my friend, and it's a truth you have to accept before you can move on. You must stop blaming yourself. Three months is a long time to mourn the loss of your brother.'

        '“Mourn the loss!” You talk like Ian's dead Vidal… He's not. He's very much alive – if you can call it a life. Dad said when they've finished the assessment they're sending him to Mars. And you and I both know what that means.' Jason ran his hands through his thick chestnut hair before we said raggedly, 'and where the hell is Jordan? No one seems to know, not even Sam. If we could only locate him he might be able to pull a few strings and arrange for Ian to go to Rior if they'll have him, and if not, to one of the new colonies when all the negotiations are finished. At least, it would give him some hope of a future. But I can't even tell him that, because we don't know where the Sectuib is hiding.'

        'He's not hiding.' Vidal quickly held up a tentacle to stop the outflow of words from his partner. 'Yes, I know what you meant to say; but you did speak to his deputy, didn't you?'

        'Yes I spoke to him. And a lot of good that was, too...“Oh that's not within my bailiwick. You'll have to wait for the Sectuib to return to talk about that!”' Jason mimicked the whining voice of the Sime Deputy with vicious glee.

        Vidal bit back a smile as he tried to sooth the young Gen's anger and impatience. 'I'll put out a few more feelers and see what I can find out. Someone out there must know where he is, and Laurence, too, for that matter. We'll find them, Jason. I promise you that. Now how about a glass of trin?'

        'Why not? Mind you, I sometimes feel that I should just go out and get blind drunk. At least I'd forget about the whole rotten mess for a few hours.' He confessed honestly.

        'And then you'd wake up and it would all still be there – and on top of that you'd have a first class headache to add to everything else,' the Sime said wryly.

        'Yes you're right. I know you're right. The trouble is you're always bloody right! So where's that trin you were talking about?'


        Another week passed slowly by and they were no closer to finding either of their two friends. They just seemed to have dropped off the face of the Earth – literally.

Jason had approached Sam once again… who had sworn by all he held dear that he had not sent either man off on a mission. Vidal also drew a blank at Zeor. Even friends and relations had heard nothing from them.

As a last resort the Channel had used his father's name to find out if either man had left from Moon base for a destination either in the solar system or further afield, and had again drawn a blank.

        Vidal brought the small flitter to rest outside their apartment building before he turned to his friend. 'You must be hungry. You didn't eat any breakfast.'

        'Yes. I suppose I can force down a few mouthfuls.' Jason retorted as he climbed out of the flitter and moved towards the entrance to the building. 'In bed last night, I was trying to work out just how long it's been since we spoke to or saw either of them. It must be months now.'

        'As a matter of fact it was exactly three months last Wednesday.' Vidal murmured as he followed the Gen into the cool interior of the reception area and they both walked across to the foyer.

        Exiting the elevator, Jason led the way towards their apartment looking back over his shoulder as he quizzed Vidal about how he was so sure that it was three months since they had heard from the Sectuib and his Companion; and he thus missed the large envelope that was sitting on top of the small table outside the door to their apartment.

        The Channel picked it up with two tentacles and followed him inside. 'What was that you just picked up?' Jason demanded as he stopped and blocked his partner's way.

        'If you will just go further inside and allow me to close the door I will be able to tell you.'

        To the Gen's chagrin, Vidal insisted that they first make lunch, which consisted of a tossed green salad and toasted cheese sandwiches together with pilah juice, before he would satisfy either of their curiosities about the unexpected missive.

        Jason was just starting on his third mouthful before the Sime again picked up the envelope and began to examine it.

        'For goodness sake just open it Vidal. What on earth is the point of scrutinising the outside of it like that?' He demanded with frustration.

        'I am merely trying to ascertain who has sent it. It is unusual in this day and age to get a handwritten communication. I can't honestly say that I can remember the last time I received one, can you?'

        'Come to think of it, no I can't. I guess we're all far too lazy.'

        The Channel nodded his dark head as he picked up a knife and slit the flap open. 'I can't say that I recognise the handwriting, although it does seem vaguely familiar. Perhaps I have seen it before, but I just don't remember…'

        Jason ignored the comment as he fought back the urge to grab the envelope and tear it open to get at the contents.

        Vidal slid a tentacle inside and eased out several sheets of paper, covered on both sides with the same distinctive handwriting, and then what looked like an old- fashioned key, suddenly fell down onto the table with a clatter.

        'What's it say?' The Gen demanded, as he examined the key.

        'Please, Jason. Do exercise a little patience. I haven't got a clue what it says yet.'

        'Well get on and read it then, but look at the last page first and see who it's from. The suspense is killing me.'

        Silence fell as the Channel began to read.

        'Hey come on be fair. Read the damn thing out loud,' Jason instructed quickly making a grab for the letter.

        The Sime moved it quickly out of his reach. 'If you will finish eating your lunch, I will endeavour to satisfy your curiosity.'

        'Okay, but get on with it.'

        The Sime sighed as he cleared his throat. 'It appears to be from Jordan and Laurence.' He said musingly, and then began to read:

        My friends,
I will be leaving this with a colleague of mine who will forward it to you in the event that I do not get in touch with him within three months. The fact that you are now reading this, means that what Laurence Knight and I feared most has come to fruition.
        As you know Vidal, both before I became Sectuib and afterwards, I have always had a keen interest in the history of Zeor and the other householdings. The same can be said of Laurence, who also worked for a number of years in Zeor's archives, and in the process also became interested.
        Now here is where it becomes difficult to explain, and equally difficult, I am sure, for you to understand. It is not important that you believe implicity in what I am about to tell you, but it is essential that you carry out my request without question.
        A few years before my father died, he called me into his study and handed to me the key that you will find enclosed with this letter. He then went on to tell me that many generations ago, long after the time of chaos at the beginning of unity; the then Sectuib of the day, who went by the name of Deveraux, stumbled upon what my father believed to be a stable wormhole, that enabled one or more people to quite literally travel across light years of space to another planet in another galaxy. I am sure that you will both be as sceptical about this as I was.
        Deveraux, himself, had apparently sent two people through the portal— a Channel and his Companion to find out where it went. They returned with a fantastic story, and realising the ramifications of what they told him, he had the wit to realise that the portal should not be used by anyone who did not fully understand what travel to this far Galaxy could mean to future generations here on Earth.
        Over the centuries each Sectuib passed the information regarding the wormhole's whereabouts to the next; with the sole adjunct that it should not be used until humanity had developed to a level where travellers would understand that even if they travelled through it to the other side, no one must be allowed to make the return journey; and rather than this should happen, they must be prepared to forfeit their very lives to retain the status quo.
        I have to confess, that since I became Sectuib in Zeor, the thought of travelling to another Galaxy has always held a great fascination for me.
        Indeed, it was this very fascination that caused me to take Laurence Knight into my confidence. I have to admit that deep down, I rather hoped that he would point out to me the folly of my ever contemplating actually using the portal, which of course he did.
        However, Deveraux had not said that no one should ever use it. Indeed, if he had made such an edict then he might just as well have destroyed it back then when it first came to light. No. He had merely stated, that it should only be used by someone in the future
who understood the consequences of their actions and would act accordingly. And as I said before, even being prepared to die should it become necessary to keep it a secret.
        Needless to say, both Laurie and I are only too well aware of all that is involved. And although we might talk about it, we would never actually contemplate using the portal merely to satisfy our own curiosity.
        However, Laurie admitted that he was keen to at least see the thing, and eventually I agreed to take him there; and in all honesty I wished to satisfy my own curiosity, too. Which, in light of what I am about to tell you was in many ways a good decision – for it appears that fate has now taken the decision of whether or not we ever travel through the wormhole out of our hands.
        Do you remember my cousin Logram? You may recall that you met him once, Vidal, and was not overly impressed, calling him a daydreamer. Well it now transpires that he has used the portal himself. When Laurence and I went to look at it, we found that he had left a note near the entrance
stating that he had indeed gone through it several months previously. He also stated that if the note was still there, then we would know that for some reason, he had been unable to return!
        So there is little doubt that Logram is still there – wherever there might be! I have no idea how he came to know about the wormhole, or indeed, why he chose to use it. I only know that he has.
In these circumstances I have decided that I have no choice but to follow him through and hopefully bring him back home before he can cause any trouble either there, or more importantly, here.
        If all works out as we hope, then neither you nor Jason will ever read this letter. We will find Logram and bring him home, and in due course of time I will hand the keyon to my own son.
        However, it now appears that something has indeed gone wrong, or you would not be reading this. I have no idea what that may be, but I can assure both of you that we will allow nothing to happen that might change our future – or theirs. To this end we must bid you farewell and trust that you will have a good life; and would ask that you fulfil just one final request on our behalf...
        Attached to this letter you will find a short note telling you exactly where the portal is to be found. Prior to our going through it however, Laurie obtained an explosive device from a friend of his. Once this is set it will collapse the entrance to the wormhole at this end.
        I would ask that you do this for us, for if we cannot return then it is obviously far to dangerous to be left for future generations to perhaps use and abuse, as sadly my cousin appears to have done.
        Forgive us both for not taking you into our confidence prior to our departure. I believe you can both understand the reasoning behind our decision.
        I know that you both have one very pertinent question to ask me. What was it that the two travellers that Deveraux sent through the portal all that time ago found, that decided him to stipulate that no future Sectuib should send anyone else through the portal in the foreseeable future. Please forgive me if I decline to answer your curiosity, believe me when I say that it is best that I remain silent.
        I did try to talk Laurence out of accompanying me through the portal, but for once I was not thinking logically; for as he pointed out to me unless I could guarantee that I would return within the month, who, then would I turn to for transfer? I therefore regretfully have no alternative but to take him with me.
        I have written to my wife, not telling her any of the above, but saying that something went wrong while we were off world. Which is I suppose, in one way at least, not a lie.
        I am sure I do not have to tell you to destroy this letter once you have digested its contents.
        I trust that you will both have long and happy lives and will think of us from time to time. Laurie asks that he, too, be included in these sentiments.

Your friends – Jordan and Laurie.

As Vidal's voice faded away both men sat in shocked silence, their eyes locked together.

        'Do you think it could be their idea of a joke?' Jason asked finally.

        'No, would that it were!'

        'What do we do?'

        'Exactly what the Sectuib has asked us to do.'

        'What? Just…leave them there?'

        'Yes.' Vidal's eyes dropped down to the letter once more before he went on. 'You heard what he said about how dangerous the portal could be to the people of Earth.'

        'I don't think Jordan and Laurie would be thoughtless in that way,' Jason said at once – in their defence.

        'I was not referring to them. I was referring, firstly, to people like Logram, and others of his ilk who might well try to follow in his footsteps. Secondly, what would happen if whoever lives on the other side of the wormhole should come through it to Earth? There must be something terrible on the other side if Deveraux and his successors decided it should not be used.' He paused and then went on. 'No, we must do as Jordan has requested. We must destroy the entrance to the portal. And to be honest with you, Jason, I really don't know whether they have done the right thing by going after Logram – or if they are merely compounding his folly.'

        He placed the final sheet of paper that had the directions written on it down onto the table beside the key, which he touched with the tip of one tentacle before he said: 'I would imagine that this is a copy of the original key which must still be in Jordan's possession.' Then slowly he walked into the office and dropped the envelope and letter into the disposal machine, watching almost sightlessly as it disintegrated.

        After a few moments Jason sighed and said quietly, 'I think I can understand their reasoning in some ways. Once they found out that Logram had already gone through the portal, what else could they do but try to get him back? If they didn't do that, he might well lead whoever lives there wittingly or unwittingly to where the entrance to the portal lies on their side of the wormhole.'

        'Which is why we must follow his orders to the letter.' Vidal stated.

        Jason nodded his agreement as he said, 'I wonder if they realise that their three months is up?'

        'Of course they do.' The Channel said harshly and then went on his voice flat. 'However, we must face the possibility that they may both be dead or they would have returned by now.'

        'A cold shiver just ran up my spine when you said that.'

        'I merely state facts.'

        'Where is this wormhole located anyway?' Jason asked as he picked up the sheet of paper from the table. 'On or off world?'

        'According to those directions it was found in the foothills of a mountain range on a Zeor property where Deveraux once lived, although it has apparently been unoccupied for well over a century,' Vidal replied.

        'I don't know much about wormholes, but aren't they found in space?'

        'As far as I am aware, yes they are.'

        'Then, how come...?'

        'I don't know.' Vidal confessed. 'So let's leave any further questions until we've actually seen it for ourselves. After all, it may not be a wormhole as we understand it at all.'

        'Okay, so when do we go?'

        'Do you have any engagements for the next few days?'

        'Nothing I can't put off.' The Gen said at once.

        'Good, then we'll leave early in the morning. The sooner we complete our task, the better.'

        'It doesn't seem right, somehow, for us to just go along and blow up their only means of escape.'

        'They knew this might happen. After all neither Jordan or Laurence are children. Besides, they've asked us to do it, remember that, Jason. It's not like we're doing it without their knowledge.'

        'No I guess not.' Jason replaced the instruction sheet on the table as though it had suddenly become red hot. 'It just seems strange to think that we're alive here – and they might be dead out there somewhere.' He waved his arms in the air.

        Vidal smiled briefly. 'Are you going to the gym this afternoon?'

        'I thought I might.'

        'Would you like some company?'



        Several hours later the two men exited the shower room at the gym, and at Jason's instigation made their way to the small café that overlooked the main swimming facility. To the Gen's annoyance Vidal, as always, still looked his usual calm self at the end of their gym session. Although they had both completed the same number of apparatus, and he personally had been both tired and sweaty.

Jason spent several moments deciding which cream cake he would choose from the wide choice before him, while his Companion watched with an indulgent smile on his lips.

'You do realise that when you eat that pastry, you will have put back every calorie you have just spent so much effort losing?'

'Of course I do. Why do you think I bother coming here at all? At least I don't feel guilty about it. You know I think I'll have that strawberry one, too. It's a shame you can't eat strawberries. You don't know what you're missing.'

'Yes I do. As I'm sure I've told you before, they were my favourite fruit before my changeover.' Vidal replied with a reminiscent grin, and then abruptly changed the conversation as he went on. 'I've been thinking that apropos of what we were discussing earlier, there is a chance that this wormhole might not just go through space to this other place, but also time.'

        Jason, who had been studying his second cake while he decided where to take his first bite, froze abruptly and then stared across at his friend as he asked, 'what the shen are you talking about now?'

        'Parallel universes. You must have covered the subject in college. Jordan and I used to sit for hours, sometimes late into the night – discussing the various possibilities of time, space, wormholes – that sort of thing.'

        Jason shook his head. 'Yes, I can just see the two of you doing that,' he said with a wry grin as he took a large bite into the soft pastry, savouring the smooth taste on his tongue as the cream filled his mouth. Swallowing quickly he went on, 'I think we had one or two lectures on the subject of time paradoxes. As I recall, there have been a few documented cases from some of the worlds we've encountered. But to be honest, it all seemed a bit far-fetched to me at the time. It still does for that matter, especially since no one has yet proved the theory one way or the other… Not to my satisfaction, anyway.'

        'Perhaps it hasn't been proved definitively as far as most lay people are concerned. But the fact remains that a majority of Earth's scientists now accept the idea as being, at the very least, plausible.' Vidal retorted bluntly.

        'So what are you saying exactly? That Logram, Jordan and Laurie might not only have travelled to another planet in another Galaxy, but they may have crossed into another time line as well?' Jason asked.

        'Yes and no.'

        '“Yes and no?” It can't be both can it? So which is it?'

        Vidal was silent for a second or two as he considered what his friend had said, before he slowly nodded his head. 'Yes. I suppose that is what I said.'

        'So what does that mean?' The Gen demanded as he wiped his fingers on the paper napkin provided and decided, reluctantly, not to eat a third pastry.

        'It means that I don't know for certain. For all we know the portal might well pass through time as well as space. It is at least…a possibility.' He sighed and then went on. 'I remember during one of our late night talking sessions, Jordan did mention just such a possibility. He said that some wormholes might indeed cross both time and space. At the time I thought it was just an interesting theory. But now, in light of what he wrote to us, I am wondering if he had already spoken to his father, and was speaking with the portal in mind.'

        Jason stared at him. 'Vidal you've lost me. I have no idea what you're blathering on about – do you?'

        The Channel gave a bark of laughter as he said, 'I'm beginning to regret bringing this up in the first place. Just forget it. We'll have to wait and see what happens.' Vidal ran his tentacles though his black hair in frustration. Then he pushed his empty glass to one side and stood up as he murmured, 'some conversations should never be started.'

        The Gen opened his mouth to reply but the Channel placed a tentacle against his lips. 'No, please. Let it rest, Jason. We'll never know the answer to any of these questions. So we'll just do as the Sectuib asks. Destroy the portal, and hope for the best.'


        Early the next morning the two men headed out for the address that the Sectuib had given them.

        'Are you sure we shouldn't talk to someone before we destroy the opening from this end?' The Gen asked, yet again.

        'And exactly who do we ask?'

        'I don't know. Sam perhaps?'

        'And what good would that do? Jordan has asked us to destroy it because of the trouble it may cause – may already have caused, for all we know. Besides, what do you think Sam would say?'

        'He wouldn't want us to destroy it, that's for sure.'

        'Exactly. And knowing the bureaucratic and military minds, they would send people through the portal to see what's there.' Vidal stated. 'And as we both know, the Sectuib feels that doing that and meddling with something we don't fully understand, will only cause trouble for the whole of humanity. And that's good enough for me.'

        'Yeah, you're right of course. It just seems such a final step to take.'

        'Indeed, but there is no other course of action open to us. I only wish there were. I spent the better part of last night going over every avenue in my mind. I have to confess that I have come to the same conclusion that Jordan came to. We have to destroy it. There really is no alternative.'

        Jason sighed as he stared at the road ahead and then nodded his head as he murmured, 'I suppose so.'

        When they arrived at their destination it was to find that the property, which still belonged to Zeor, had that neglected air about it that said it had been left unattended and unloved for well over a century.

Several miles away, in the distance, Jason could just make out the hazy shape of a mountain range, picked out again the blue sky. Two hours later they approached the foothills, and following their instructions to the letter they quickly found the cave entrance they were seeking. The outside had been boarded up like many other disused mines in the area. And yet, as they ventured further inside, it was to find that there were many security devices that had quite obviously been installed and updated over the years, some in more recent times.

Jason carried a powerful flashlight as they made their way carefully through the myriad of security installations following the Sectuib's instructions, till they finally arrived at their destination; a small cave carved out of the solid rock either by man or the erosion of water in the long distant past. Incongruously perhaps, after all the high tech equipment behind them, it was the simple old-fashioned key that finally opened the thick wooden door – and they both entered.

Silently Jason pointed to the footsteps clearly visible in the rock dust and sand on the floor as his eyes rose to scan the cave's interior, which from floor to ceiling, and wall to wall, was completely empty.
        'Has someone beaten us to it?' Jason murmured finally.

        Vidal did not reply as he moved across the room augmenting slightly as he made his way to the wall on their left. Quickly he scanned the huge rocks from the bottom upwards and then along the far side; then finding the stone he was after, he pressed it firmly and waited. Silently the wall slid away and revealed yet another opening beyond the one they were now in; and this one was most definitely man made.

        'It's a good job the Sectuib told us what to do when we got here. We'd never have found this on our own,' Jason wrinkled his nose as he said. 'Hey, what's that rotten smell? It wasn't in the other cave, was it?'

        Vidal merely grunted his acknowledgement of this fact as he stepped into the room, which was much larger than the outer cave.

        Suddenly he swore softly under his breath and ran forward with Sime swiftness. Jason who could not see around him waited until he stopped and bent down.

        'What is it? What's there?' He demanded to know as he edged forward.

        'There's someone lying here, I thought at first it might be Laurence but thankfully, it's not.'

        Jason tried to peer over his friend's shoulder. 'Who is it? Is he dead?' He whispered.

        'Yes. Has been for some time – from the look of him,' the Sime conceded as he stood up again, slowly. 'However, apart from the fact that he's Gen, I have no idea who he is.'

'Well – he must have come through from the other side.' Jason stated. 'So where's the Sectuib and the others?'

'I don't know. One can only speculate that they were apparently unable to return.'

'How did he die?' Jason asked.

Vidal looked down at the body again and zlinned it as he turned it over. 'He appears to have been stabbed.'

'Are you sure?' Jason elbowed his friend to one side to stare down at the still figure now lying face down on the floor; the dark brown patch of dried blood clearly visible on the Gen's outer clothing. 'I doubt he was stabbed in a fight.'


'He was stabbed in the back. You just don't turn your back on someone if you're fighting with them with knives.' Jason said firmly.

'That's debateable.' Vidal retorted at once. 'He may have started to fight –realised he couldn't win, and tried to run.'

The Gen shrugged, 'So what are we going to do now?'

Vidal looked around the large room his eyes coming to rest on what he immediately took to be the device Jordan had mentioned in his letter.

'It doesn't look very impressive does it?' Jason murmured, and not waiting for an answer he walked across to stare down at the small box sitting alongside the far wall. 'But it does look pretty simple. According to Laurie, we just have to set the timer to give us enough time to get clear, and then up she goes.'

'Don't touch it yet!'

'I wasn't going to. But there seems little point in delaying the inevitable does there? Besides, if we blow it now we can be back in town in time for lunch.'

'Do you think of nothing beyond your stomach?' Vidal demanded with a sigh.

'I didn't eat any breakfast if you recall. Well come on, Vidal, say the word. Why the delay?'

The Channel ignored him as he turned to stare at the simple wooden entrance to what he took to be the portal.

'Not very big is it?' Jason said, following his eyes. 'I always understood that wormholes are massive great things.'

'I would venture the possibility that this one is not quite so small as it appears to be at first glance.'


'Meaning, it could well extend to the top of this mountain and from side to side, too. Perhaps, through the entire mountain range.'

'Are you sure about that?'

'No, of course not. But it seems feasible, doesn't it?

Jason was silent and then said, 'If you say so.' He stared at the man made wooden structure that framed the entrance to the portal. Beyond the doorway was nothing but space and bare rock. After a moment he stepped closer extending his hand to touch the rockface at the far side, when suddenly he was pulled back to land unceremoniously on his butt.

'What the shen! Why'd you do that?' Jason demanded as the Channel extended his hand to help him up.

'My apologies, but for all we know one only has to step into the space between the portal and the rockface to activate the wormhole. I can see no mechanism that would operate it in here. So it would seem to be a logical conclusion.' Vidal pointed out.

'If you say so,' the Gen conceded before he went on. 'So where are we going to position the bomb to collapse it? I think directly in front of and pointing towards the portal itself might be the best place.'

'Please, Jason. Will you forget about destroying the portal for just a few moments?'

'Why? That's what we came here for – or am I mistaken about that?' Jason asked quizzically, his head on one side.

'No you are not mistaken. But remember this portal has been here for centuries if not millennia. Indeed, it might well have been here since the Earth itself was created, or even before.'

'And what does that mean, exactly?'

'It means that wormholes, at least as far as we know, occur only in space. I do not know of one single wormhole that has ever been found on either a planet or a satellite in the known Galaxy. Yet here, as far as we can ascertain, we have found one. It is an anomaly. I can only assume that it was already here in space when our Solar System was created, and our planet formed itself around the entrance to the wormhole at this end. It is at least a possibility, or don't you agree?'

Jason grinned across at him. 'Truthfully? I have no idea and care less. After all, this might not be a wormhole – as we understand it at all. Indeed – it could have been created by the ancients. Who, we know, were far and away more advanced than we are. But that still doesn't answer my initial question – why the delay in collapsing the entrance?'

'Bear with me please.' Vidal took a deep breath and then said, 'I have been considering the possibility that Logram, who is a Second, took a Gen with him. It would seem sensible to do so. After all he wouldn't know what to expect on the other side, either.'

'That's true.' His partner agreed and then snapped his fingers as he pointed at the corpse and said, 'you think he might be that Gen, don't you?'

The Channel nodded his head.

'Assuming you're right, why didn't Logram come back with him?'

'Maybe he couldn't.' The Sime murmured and then said, 'But this does change things.'

'In what way?'

'If he is Logram's Gen, then I think we can assume that he's been murdered; which means that Jordan and Laurence could be in a lot more trouble than even they anticipated.'

Jason turned to stare at his friend as he asked, 'I trust you're not contemplating what I think you are?'

'Why not? They'd do the same for us.'

'Vidal you're out of your tiny mind! Remember the Sectuib ordered us to blow this place up.'

'I know that. But circumstances have changed.'

'No they haven't changed. Let me play devil's advocate here. We've found the body of a Gen who appears to have been murdered, and that is all. For all we know he might have nothing at all to do with Logram.'

'But he might.' Vidal said stubbornly.

For a few moments Jason starred at his friend and then shook his head. 'What's the point of arguing? You've already made up your mind haven't you? You intend to follow them through that…thing.'

'But I don't want – or expect – you to accompany me.'

'No? Then I'll ask you the same question that Laurie asked Jordan: “what do you intend to do at the end of this month”?'

'I shall be back by then.' The Sime said stubbornly.

'And if you're not – what then? Look you have no idea what's on the other side, any more than Jordan and Laurie did. You don't even know if it's a Sime/Gen planet. In fact to be blunt, you don't even know if there are humans living there at all; it could be aliens or even dinosaurs, and if you can't get back, what do you do for selyn?'

'I refuse to take you into danger.'

'And, I won't let you go alone. End of argument.'

'Jason, I…'

'Shut up Vidal. If you're going, I'm going. Besides, as I said before, the Sectuib might be able to help young Ian. That alone is reason enough for me to go...if I have to have another excuse.'

The Channel sighed softly. 'Very well.'

'Look I…You're agreeing with me?'

Vidal smiled ruefully.

'Well that's a first.' Jason said and then went on, 'however, I suggest we still set the timing device that Laurie has left. After all, none of us might be able to make it back from there, in which case it's best that the entrance to the portal is collapsed so that no one else will be able to use it.'

'A sensible precaution. But is it possible to set it for months in advance?'

Jason knelt down to examine the timing device before he answered his partner. 'Not with this timer no; but I can obtain a different one. It shouldn't be too hard to change it over. However, I would suggest that we give it a three month time lapse. If we're not back by then I think it unlikely that we'll ever be able to make it back.' He said bluntly, and then without waiting for a reply he asked: 'When shall we go?'

'Tomorrow? Will that give you sufficient time to change the timer, pack a few essentials, and leave your affairs in order?'

'Yes. But we'd better bury him before we leave here,' and he nodded at the dead Gen.

Vidal gave a grimace. 'Yes, and if we get back safely, Jordan can arrange for him to be buried properly.'


Late the following day, the two men stood once more in front of the portal. They were wearing clothes similar in most respects to what the dead Gen had been wearing. Loose pants and a tunic top, which had long loose sleeves and was in a nut brown colour. Vidal, at Jason's suggestion, also wore the same long sleeves, for – as his Companion had pointed out – if there were people on the other side they might never have seen a Sime before; in which case tentacles might well frighten the shen out of them; although the Channel insisted on taking a few sleeveless tunics as well. Both men carried a knapsack on their back, and Jason had an assortment of weapons hidden on his person.

They had manhandled the device into position, and Jason had set the new timer that he had obtained. 'I guess that's everything,' he said with a weak grin. 'Are you ready?'

The Channel nodded his head as he ran his tentacles nervously through his dark hair. 'I would suggest that we both drop to the floor when we reach the other side,' he said at last.


'Because whoever stabbed the Gen might still be in the vicinity – in which case they might well live under the maxim of “shoot first”,' he pointed out.

'Good thinking.' Jason glanced across at his friend standing stiffly at his side. 'You're really worried aren't you?'

'I'd be a fool if I wasn't.'

'I know our timing could have been better.' Jason said softly.

'What does that mean?'

'It's your turnover day, or had you forgotten?' He asked as he offered support.

'Hardly,' Vidal said at once, 'but I thought you had.'

'Never assume anything where I'm concerned Vidal. I've told you that before.'

The Channel smiled briefly at his friend.

'So what do you suggest we do now?' Jason asked facetiously, a wicked grin on his handsome face as he caught Vidal's eye.

The Sime bit back a grin of his own as he murmured jokingly, 'Are you suggesting we hold hands as we step into the unknown together?'

'Hardly. I prefer to have my gun hand free, you know that.' Jason laughed and then said: 'Come on, if we're going to do it, let's go!'

Moments later the two men, shoulder to shoulder, stepped into the portal.

Jason automatically closed his eyes as a cold wind buffeted his body and minutes later, or so it seemed to him, he was quite literally thrown out of the portal at the other end. A small gasp left his lips as he realised that Vidal had pushed him unceremoniously down onto his knees.

Jason opened his eyes to find himself in a cave similar to, though a lot smaller than the one they had left behind. They also appeared to be alone.

'Are you okay,' the Gen whispered as he clambered quickly to his feet, switching on the flashlight he had unclipped from his belt.

'It would appear so.' The Channel did not require a light as long as his Companion was close by, for he could use the Gen field to light his way.

'Can you zlin anyone in the vicinity?' Jason asked and then as the Sime did not answer he asked again, 'Vidal – I said “can you…”?'

'I heard you the first time; and no, I can zlin no one. In fact, I can't zlin beyond this small cave.' He confessed.

'What does that mean, exactly?'

Vidal moved to touch the rock that surrounded them. I trust we don't encounter too much of this outside these caves.' He said quietly.

'I hope you're right,' Jason whispered back, for both men were well aware of how much they counted on the Channel's zlinning abilities.

Less than an hour later they both exited the cave with a sigh of relief. 'I hope we can find our way back here again,' Jason observed as he stared at the barren sandy landscape around them. 'Sorry, I forgot for a moment that you're with me.' He confessed and then went on, 'shen it, do you think we're in the middle of a desert?'

'So it would appear.' The Sime climbed up onto a large outcrop of rock similar to that found inside the cave, and extended his arms and tentacles as he zlinned the area surrounding them.


'There appears to be a large area of vegetation over there. It could be a forest of some kind,' Vidal pointed towards the horizon on the left and then said, 'Wait. I can zlin a small dwelling midway between here and the forest. I suggest we go there first.'

'Can you zlin any of our people?' Jason called up to him, hopefully.


'What about their footprints?'

'This is a desert region. They probably have frequent sand storms. I doubt footprints would last for long on this terrain.' Vidal pointed out.

Then as be clambered down from the rock the two men quickly set out across the fine sand towards the dwelling that the Channel had zlinned.

Jason looked around at the outcrops of rock that appeared here and there among the sand dunes. 'There seems to be a lot of rock around here.' He observed

'Unfortunately, yes.'

'In some respects it might play to our advantage,' Jason observed.

'In what way?'

'Well, if I have to hide for any reason, what better place than behind a lump of that.'

'I don't think somehow that the advantages we gain, by you being able to hide behind it will outweigh the fact that I cannot zlin through it,' Vidal murmured back, automatically masking the Gen's field as they walked along.

'It was only as they neared the wooden dwelling that Vidal suddenly pulled the Gen down behind a large clump of rock. 'There are approximately ten renSimes inside the building.'

'Well that answers one question; it's a Sime/Gen planet.'

'Yet, apart from you, there are no other Gens in the vicinity. Doesn't that seem strange to you?'

'Yes I suppose it does. But are you sure about that? I mean, we don't know if the rock is affecting your zlinning abilities in any other way do we?' He pointed out.

'I can't zlin through it.' Vidal stated baldly, 'no more than I could back on Earth, and I wish there wasn't quite so much of it. But in all other respects my abilities are unaffected.'

'Okay. So what does it mean exactly?'

'It means that I have never known a group of Simes on Earth or elsewhere, who have not had Gens either with them, or at least near to them. Have you?'

'No, come to think of it, I don't suppose I have.'

'From what I can zlin it would appear that the dwelling is, in fact, an ale house. There are a number of small outbuildings near to the house itself. I shall go down and see what I can find out.'

'Okay, let's do that.'

'No, not you, Jason.' Vidal said at once. 'We have no idea what is going on here. To be on the safe side I think it's best if you remain hidden behind this rock, until I return. By then I may hopefully know more about this planet and how it is run.'

Jason nodded his head. 'All right, I'll do that, but don't be too long. I have a feeling that if this is like any of the desert regions on Earth, it's going to get really cold come nightfall.'

'I shall do my best.' He went to move away and then hesitated as he said, 'I think I shall change. They are all Sime in there – so perhaps I should wear a sleeveless tunic. It might cause comment if I appear in long sleeves.' He pulled the garment out of his knapsack as he said softly, 'and please remain hidden Jason. I don't like the feel of this at all.'

'Neither do I.' The Gen admitted softly as he settled down to wait behind the large rock.

Vidal went to move away and then turned back yet again as he reached for his knapsack to pull a knee length cape and hood out of it, which he dropped into the Gen's lap. 'Put this on. I got it from one of Sam's people, while you were picking up the new timer.'

Jason obeyed as he asked, 'What's it for anyway?'

'The rock itself will hide your field from most Simes, but it won't stop your field from shining like a beacon above the top of the rock. Hopefully, the cape and hood should eliminate that possibility.'

'Fair enough. Let's hope it works.'

Quickly, Vidal strode away changing his showfield to renSime as he approached the wooden building. Stopping briefly in the doorway he both zlinned and glanced back to where Jason was hiding; and to his relief, he could neither see nor zlin him.

Inside the air was stuffy as there were no windows open and the Simes were all gathered together in one not very large room. Only two of them were female. Several of them were playing some sort of board game at one end, while others were gathered at the other end of the long bar, drinking and laughing.

The Channel knew he was being zlinned before he had even entered the premises, and now the Sime standing behind the bar broke away from the others and approached him. 'What can I do for you, mister?' Surprisingly he spoke in English and not Simelan, and although Vidal could just about understand him, the words were strangely pronounced with a dialect he had not come across before.

Vidal stared back at the man as he tried to gather his wits. Of course, to buy a drink he had to have money or something to barter with, and he had nothing. He was a fool not to have thought of it before.

'I'm new to this part of the country. I… er… I was robbed a short way from here. They got away with everything I had. Is there anyone around here I should notify?' It was the best he could come up with on the spur of the moment.

One of the men sitting at the table looked up a wide grin on his face as he called across, 'Notify? You aren't in the city now, my friend. The only law around here is the Home Guard part of the main military, and they won't do anything about it.'

'Where do I find them?' Vidal asked.

'They stay mainly in the castle, unless they're out on a Gen hunt.' Another Sime stated. 'You're best keeping well away from them, unless you need a Gen. Then you haven't got much option but to go to them, unless you want to try your hand at catching one for yourself.'

The bartender laughed out loud as he said, 'if he hasn't got any money there's no point in him going to the castle is there?'

'Guess not.'

The bartender shook his head as he turned once again to look at Vidal. 'Sorry, mister, but I can't do anything for you.'

Vidal was turning to leave when one of the Simes standing at the bar suddenly called across, 'seeing as how you're a stranger around here the best place to catch yourself a Gen in these parts is in the forest a few miles from here.'

'Or he could try Hollow Mountains.' A female Sime yelled across.

'Hollow Mountains?' Vidal repeated with a frown.

'Yeah, they're called that because they're riddled with caves.'

The bartender wiped one of the tables as he observed sourly, 'the wild Gens in these parts hide themselves away deep in the caves, down in holes in the ground or behind the rocks in the forest where we can't zlin them. Nothings more devious than a Gen!'

Vidal nodded. 'Thanks for the advice,' he said quickly and again moved towards the door, his mind racing as he thought of his Companion hiding out behind the rocks. He should never have allowed Jason to come to this planet with him, never! Yet how could he have forced him to remain at home?

Augmenting slightly, the Channel hurried back to where he had left his partner only to find that he wasn't there!

Frantically he scrambled to the top of the largest rock and began to zlin the surrounding area.

Where the shen had the young idiot gone to? Had one of the hunting parties from the castle come by and captured him? He dismissed the notion at once as ridiculous, for he would have zlinned the commotion if they had; for he had little doubt that Jason would have put up a fight and would not have been taken easily.

Suddenly a small pebble hit him in the middle of his back and he spun around to find Jason standing a few yards away from him down on the ground grinning inanely up at him.

Vidal jumped down to stand in front of the Gen.

'What the shen are you playing at?'

The grin slipped from the Gen's face as he stared at his angry friend.

'What's wrong now?'

'“What's wrong” he asks, what's wrong!? I'll tell you, shall I? Yes, this is a Sime/Gen planet. In fact it's a mirror copy of the Earth of millennia ago. I'd say just around the age of chaos. Do you have any conception of what that means?'

'Yes I guess so. In a nutshell Simes and Gens didn't live together. One simply fed off the other till Zelerod came along and prophesied a catastrophe if things didn't change.'

'Exactly. But what else went on at that time?' The Channel demanded to know.

'Calm down, I have no idea what you're getting at' Jason admitted honestly.

'Gens were reared on Genfarms. Wild Gens were caught and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Households like Zeor, let alone the Tecton, were unheard of… Now do you understand what I'm trying to get at?'

'Shen, you don't mean…?'

'Yes, I do mean. It's the worst nightmare scenario either of us could have dreamed up. It also means that you will have to return to Earth. I can't, and I won't, take responsibility for your safety under these conditions.'

'Hey now. Wait just a minute, Vidal. Whether I go or stay is my decision not yours; and after what you've just told me, I have no intention whatsoever of leaving you on your own in this place; now more so than before, and for the same shenning reasons.'

Vidal sighed out loud as he brought his errant feelings under control. He had tried, so there was little point in arguing further. Sitting down cross-legged on the sand he quickly told his partner what he had learned from the Simes in the ale house, before he said with resignation: 'I trust you do realise the full implications of what I've told you?'

'Of course.' Jason rubbed the back of his neck as he asked. 'So what's our next move?'

'I think we should head towards the forest. You should be able to hide there more easily while I go to this castle that they mentioned and see what I can find out.'

In silence the two men set out once more, each with their own thoughts about the task ahead.

As the Sun got lower in the sky, the forest appeared to be getting noticeably closer. 'The trees don't look like anything I've ever seen before.' Jason stated. 'They're a funny yellow colour.'

'Perhaps it's autumn.' Vidal murmured, his mind on other things.

'Could be, I suppose. Mind you, on Earth date palms are one of the few trees that grow in the desert.'

'This is not Earth.'

'I know that.' Jason sighed as he stopped to remove his shoes once more to shake out the sand that had accumulated inside them.

'The ground is quite soft. Why don't you leave them off?' Vidal suggested.

'Because – I might step on a stone and cripple myself. Unlike you, I can't zlin ahead of me, and it's already getting dark.'

'I am aware of what you can and can't do, Jason.' The Channel said with infinite patience, as he waited for the Gen to put his shoes on again.

The planet's Sun was just beginning to sink towards the horizon when they finally reached the outskirts of the forest. Using Jason to zlin his way, Vidal led them both deeper into the trees and dense undergrowth.

Coming to a small clearing they both began moving small branches, stones and several piles of twigs that would have made lying down uncomfortable, as they set up camp.

'There's a small pool and stream over there behind that large tree.' Vidal informed him. 'I don't think we should chance lighting a fire.'

'I agree. We don't want to encourage visitors if we can help it.' Jason smiled wearily as he watched the Sime disappear into the undergrowth in the direction of the stream.

When the Channel returned, Jason had already torn open a pre–packed meal. The contents automatically swelling to three times the size as the air touched them, while they instantly heated up. The aroma wafted into Jason's nostrils and made him realize just how hungry he really was; after all, he hadn't eaten all day.

'Want one?' He asked the Sime as he sat cross-legged on the hard ground. 'It tastes quite good for a change.'

'No, thank you. I believe I have an apple somewhere in my knapsack. Ah yes, here it is. It will suffice.'

'If you say so.' Jason murmured as he turned his attention back to the hot food, until he said, 'don't you think it's strange – just over there is a desert, and here we have trees, a stream, and a pool of water – perhaps one of many for all we know.'

'Not really. On Earth we have oasis and date palms in the desert. While here, I would imagine that both the stream and pool get their water either from the mountain range we left behind us, or from the mountains we can see in front of us. It's not all that different.' Vidal said. 'We are, after all, on another planet, in another galaxy.'

A short while later Jason fell into a restless sleep, while his partner leaned back against a convenient tree to keep watch during the long night hours. His mind first considering, and then rejecting, various ideas as to what they should or should not do next.

The Sun was already up when Jason finally awoke to find that Vidal was gone. Standing up quickly, the Gen stared around and decided that his friend had probably gone to wash and relieve himself. A few minutes later he was proved correct as the Sime emerged from behind a large tree, and with a brief grin and a quick wave of his hand, Jason set off for the pool.

'If Jordan and Laurence came this way, I would imagine that they, too, would've made for the castle,' Vidal observed as he watched Jason eat a fruit and nut high-energy bar.

'You're probably right. But I can't imagine Jordan taking Laurie in there with him. Which means he should be hiding out somewhere around here, waiting for his return.'

'Either that or they've been and gone.'

'You mean they might be miles away from here by now?'

'Yes. After all, they do have quite a head start on us.' Vidal reminded him.

'Well they aren't going to just let you in the castle just to wander around are they? What excuse are you going to give them?'

'That I need a Gen.'

'And how do you intend to pay?'

'I've no idea.'

'Well I have.' Jason said with a grin. 'Here, you can use this to barter. It must be worth something on this world,' and he handed Vidal the ring he had been given by his parents on his coming of age.

Even today, Gens still celebrated their birthdays, as most did not always know the exact date that they established. Whereas Simes celebrated the day they changed over, and not the date of their birth. Although in more recent times, Simes had begun to celebrate both – which made many young Gens cry “foul” – saying the Simes were just after two sets of presents.

Vidal accepted it reluctantly. 'Thank you. But I'm taking it only on the understanding that you let me replace it when we return home.'

'It might be better if you deduct it from the money I still owe you.' Jason said, but the Channel ignored the comment.

Before he set out for the castle Vidal stood well back from the tree line and zlinned the castle thoroughly.

'Well? What's the verdict?'

Vidal sighed as he said. 'It is, of course built from rock. Why did I expect anything else?'

'So you can't zlin inside?'


'So you're going to have to go in blind.'

Vidal nodded, and then went on. 'You know – on Earth when a group of Simes are together, we tend to speak in Simelan.'

'And these folk don't?'

'No they speak in English if one can call it that. It's rather garbled, with a strange dialect to boot.'

'But you obviously understood it okay.'

'Thankfully, yes. It seems that my contacts with aliens on other planets has undoubtedly helped.' The Sime smiled at his Companion. 'If it's the only difference that we encounter on this world then we must count ourselves very lucky indeed.'

'Amen to that.'

'Come let me get you settled before I leave.' The Channel said as he led his friend towards a large outcrop of rock. 'Stay down. And I mean that, Jason. Don't try to watch the castle. Remember, while I cannot zlin into the castle, I can zlin the guards up there on the battlements. And they will be able to zlin you if you allow yourself to step outside these rocks or to look over the top of them, or you remove the cape and hood.' He warned. 'No matter how warm you may feel.'

'Okay I get the picture.' The Gen said reluctantly. 'But it's going to get really hot just sitting here. What if you don't come back out?'

'Then go back into the forest and dig yourself a hole. But if I'm not out in three days, you must return to the portal and go back to Earth. Promise me this, Jason. There is no point in you trying to rescue me, or indeed in you trying to find Jordan and Laurence on your own. On this world, you can do neither. You must recognise your limitations.'

'I know that. I'm not a complete halfwit you know.'

Vidal smiled. 'Your promise, Jason.'

'All right you have my promise,' the Gen said as he mentally crossed his fingers behind his back whilst projecting honesty into the field as hard as he could. Thankfully, Vidal “appeared to look” satisfied.


Just a week before Vidal and Jason had arrived at the castle, Laurence Knight had watched as Jordan had entered the castle on his own. He, too, had no money to use in purchasing a Gen. But in their case, the Sectuib had decided to use his own Zeor ring for barter.

When they had first arrived through the portal, while Jordan hid his tentacles inside the long sleeves of his tunic, the two men had made contact with the Gens that lived in the forest. For the last three months they had learned as much as they could about this strange world. And to his profound disappointment, Jordan had found out that as far as Angus, the leader of the Gens knew, there were no householdings – not even fledgling ones – on this strange planet.

However, again as far as Angus was aware, there were Genfarms on the far plains the other side of the Hollow Mountains just beyond the City of Preston. And whilst he had no interest in the Genfarms per se, Jordan did wonder if his cousin might have made for the city. Though for what reason, he didn't know. Except that it seemed to be one of the largest settlements in this part of the country.

There was also the slight chance that Logram might have gone to the castle. And it was for this reason alone that Jordan had made the decision to take a look inside the place himself.

But that had been a week ago now, and the Channel had not yet returned.


The Sectuib had had no difficulty at all in getting inside the castle; and his Zeor ring had indeed purchased the Gen that he had pretended to need, changing his showfield to corroborate his story.

To his surprise, no one had asked his name or had taken down any personal details, and Jordon guessed that the guards were running a little business venture of their own on the side, and would probably pocket the ring, give him his Gen, and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately, however, he was told that he could not take the Gen away with him as he had hoped, but had to take his kill inside the environs of the castle. Not for the first time, Jordan had to change his plans.

Finding himself in a comfortable and quiet waiting room he knew he now had a few hours to waste while they prepared the Gen. But, thankfully, he was alone in the room.

When first deciding to come into the castle the Sectuib had thought that he might be allowed to walk unhindered around the place and perhaps question various people as to whether they had either seen or heard anything of his cousin. He should, perhaps, have guessed that things would not be made that easy for him.

        However, after the first hour when he had been asked if he required anything for his comfort and he had said rather abruptly that the only thing he required was solitude and to be left undisturbed, no one had come near him. So he decided to try his luck and leave the room.

Opening the door he zlinned no one either up or down the long corridor. And so, he set out to explore. If he was questioned by anyone, he would merely say that he had decided to stretch his legs and had not realised that he was a prisoner! He had no idea what they might say in answer to that.

Walking quickly along the corridor he zlinned various doors, some were empty rooms, others were cupboards that housed cleaning equipment. Soon he heard the sound of muffled laughter and music. Moving towards it he found himself outside a room where quite a large number of people both male and female were talking and gambling.

Taking a deep breath Jordan walked into the room and looked around. Seeing an unoccupied seat in an alcove on the far side of the room he quickly went and sat down. Thankfully, although many of the people zlinned him as he entered the room, having satisfied their immediate curiosity and noting the fact that he was in need, they just as quickly ignored him again and resumed their conversations.

Seeing a woman sitting on her own Jordan decided to approach her and see if he could strike up a conversation. To his surprise it was quite easy, and it took him only moments to realise that she was one of a number of hostesses who were steadily working the room.

'I wondered if you had spoken to my cousin, Logram?' He finally asked with a smile.

'Never heard the name. Mind you, I don't get to speak to everyone.'

'Could you ask your friends if they might have spoken to him?' The Channel suggested tentatively.

'I'll see what I can find out.' Seconds later she left his side and disappeared amongst the laughing crowd. Within a few minutes she reappeared and sat down again. 'You're in luck.' She said with a quick smile.

'Where is he?'

She smiled across at him. 'It's going to cost you.'

Jordan's heart sank into his boots. He had used his ring to pay for the Gen, and now had nothing he could offer her.

'I… er… I left my money outside the walls when I came here. I was told I might get fleeced if I brought it in with me.' He improvised.

'Can't say I blame you. There's not many that leave here with anything in their pockets,' she informed him. 'I finish up here in twenty minutes. I've got a room at the top of the east tower – number 39. You bring the money there. I'll be waiting.'

'How much are we talking about?' Jordan asked quickly.

'Fifty groats,' she licked her lips in eager anticipation, and Jordan who had no idea how much fifty groats was, decided that it must be quite a lot.

'The trouble is I can't get out of the castle and back in again with the money can I?' He said quietly.

'No problem there. We all use the entrance at the bottom of the east tower. You only know about it if you work here, so the Guards don't bother to watch it. Not unless there's been some trouble. Then the place is swarming with military.' She chuckled softly and moments later she left his side, and he left the room to make his way back to the waiting room, walking slowly along the corridor deep in thought.

How did he find fifty groats, or any groats at all come to that? Jordan sighed out loud. He could, of course, threaten her and get the information he required, but that was not his way. His only alternative was to steal it, and that, too, was not his way. But unfortunately, his options were very few and far between.

At that moment a door further along the corridor suddenly opened and a well-dressed male stepped out and began to walk away from him. Augmenting quickly, Jordan overtook him. The Sime turned at the very last moment but was too late, as the Sectuib rendered him unconscious and helped himself to his money pouch.

Thankfully, it was stuffed with coins. Jordan slipped it into his pocket and opening one of the many cupboards that lined the corridor he bundled the Sime inside amongst the brooms and pails, and with a brief word of apology he hurried back to the sanctuary of the waiting room.

Jordan's only consolation was the fact that the man was obviously making his way to one of the gaming rooms, which meant it was very unlikely that he would have left with any of his money intact.
Just before he was due to meet the woman in her room, Jordan slipped out into the corridor once more, and made his way towards the east tower taking the stairs two at a time till he found her room number.

        Scratching briefly on her door, he was not surprised when she opened it at once and ushered him inside.

        'You've got it?'

        'Yes.' Jordan drew the pouch from his pocket and opened it, taking out a handful of coins that he took to be groats. Quickly he counted them into her hand. 'Now tell me about my cousin,' he instructed, and then spun quickly around as several figures stepped out from a hidden passageway behind the rock wall, and he was grasped by the arms. 'What's all this about?' He demanded at once.

        'I'm sorry but I had no choice,' the woman confessed and grabbed the money pouch with the remainder of the cash from his hand as she spoke.

        'Don't think you're keeping all that, Essie, because you're not. I'll be back later.' One of the Sime guards said ominously.

        Moments later Jordan found himself pushed and pulled along a badly lit and dirty passageway and down several flights of slippery steps till they came out at what appeared to be the dungeons.

        The guard opened one of the cell doors and the Sectuib found himself tossed inside to land on the cold hard ground.

        'What am I in here for?' He called out to his captors.

        'You'll find out later,' one of the Simes replied as he slammed the door closed and all three of them hurried away, their footsteps fading into the distance.

        The Sectuib turned to zlin the bundle of dirty clothes on the floor beside him. 'Who are you?' he demanded.

        'Arik the Great. Who are you?' Even as he spoke, a young dirty face suddenly appeared from among the clothes and stared across at him.

        'Arik the who?' Jordan quickly attuned his ears to the boy's even stranger way of speaking, but could not hide the smile that crossed his face.

        'What's so funny about that?' The boy asked. 'Ain't you heard the legend?'

        'I'm afraid not. My education appears to be lacking.' Jordan admitted at once as he tried to mollify the lad. 'Your parents picked your name?'

        The boy snorted derisively, 'Ain't got no parents. I picked it for meself.'


        The youngster zlinned him as he rolled to his feet, his body wrapped in a long, big and very dirty coat that appeared to be made from animal skins. 'So what's yer name?' He asked.

        'Jordan. Now tell me young Arik, what are you in here for?'

        'Killing a Gen.'

        Jordan looked at him in surprise, 'I would not have thought that that was an offence here,' he said at once.

        'It is if it belongs to someone else.'

        'Ah, I think I understand.' Jordan admitted. 'But tell me Arik, how can they blame any Sime for doing what nature has forced him to do?'

        The youngster stared at him, 'How do I know?'

        'No, of course you don't.' Jordan sighed as he said. 'I wonder, have you by any chance seen or heard of someone by the name of Logram?'

        'Ain't never heard the name. But that don't mean I ain't seen him. What's he look like, then?'

        'A little shorter than me, same black hair – oh – and he has a mole just here on his chin.'

        'Yes. I seen him.'

        'Where? When? What happened to him?' Jordan demanded at once.

        'He was outside the Overseer's office when I was sentenced.'

        'You haven't seen him since? He wasn't sent down here?'

        'Not as far as I know. Mind you, there are a lot of cells down here. He could be in any of them.' The boy pointed out as he idly scratched first his body, and then his long, lank hair with his fingers and tentacles.

        'How long are you in here for?' Jordan asked casually as he edged a little further away from the young Sime who appeared to be infested with either body lice or fleas.

        'Just till they've got an empty cage upstairs,' he replied.

        'An empty cage – what's that for? Surely they don't put you on display.' Jordan was shocked at the thought.

        'They do if you're dying of attrition.' A pair of haunted eyes looked across at him as the boy went on. 'Charge money to watch, they do. The guard told me they expect one of the women to die soon. She's already lasted longer than they expected.'

        The Sectuib stared at him in horror. He could hardly believe his ears. 'And you're next?' He asked.

        'That's what the guard says. But then, they don't always tell the truth. Sometimes they say you're the next, because they like to see how you take it, if you see what I mean.'

        'Yes, I see all right.' Jordan said in disgust.

        The lad suddenly laughed as he observed, 'Mind you, they've got a long wait to see me do a death dance. I ain't even hit turnover yet.'

        The boy walked across to the stone wall, and began to rub his back against it before he said, 'If you ask me, all the guards are shenning mad. They're all a bunch of…sad…sadi–'

        'Sadists.' Jordan supplied the word he was looking for.

        'Yeah, sadists. That's it.'

        The Sectuib shook his head. And to think his long dead ancestors had probably been just the same as the Simes who now lived on this planet. It didn't bear thinking about.

        The next morning several of the guards arrived and Jordan was dragged upstairs to see the Overseer. Well at least he would find out why he was in the cells. After all, he was only guilty of asking about his cousin, for there was no way they could connect him with the man in the cupboard, he thought ruefully.

        The Overseer was a middle aged Sime who stared at him for several minutes before he finally asked, 'Name?'

        'Why am I in here?'

        'You're in here because you robbed a prominent guest. That's why you're in here.'

        Shen! Perhaps he should have tied him up and not relied on him remaining unconscious.

        'Name? And I won't ask you again.'

        'Jordan…Jordan Farris.' He might just as well use his own name, he decided. After all, Zeor did not even exist on this world.

        'F...Farris?' The Overseer stood up abruptly knocking over his chair as he did so. 'Shidoni. You do look like them.'

        Jordan stared at the man in surprise, for it was rare to see a Sime act so clumsily, even as he winced at the man's coarse use of such foul language.

        'What are you doing here? Spying on us?' He demanded.

        Jordan remained silent, mainly because he had no idea what the man was talking about, and felt that if he made no response then he would not display his ignorance of this world or its people.

        'Why are you here?'

        The Sectuib zlinned him carefully and decided to take a chance by telling him the truth. Whether he believed him or not, was of course a moot point. 'I came to look for my cousin…Logram.'
        'Logram.' The Overseer murmured nodding his head as if that explained a lot. 'Yes he was here. Several weeks ago. He said he was returning to Preston. But he didn't say he was a Farris.'

        The Channel could zlin the curiosity in the other man's field as he asked, 'why are you looking for him?'

        Jordan raised one eyebrow and taking a chance that he was reading the ambiant correctly he replied brusquely, 'Is that any of your business?'

        'Ah… no… no. Of course not. Forgive me for asking, N'vet Farris.'

        N'vet Farris? Jordan kept his surprise from showing in his field as he absorbed the man's response.

        'Are you certain Logram said Preston.'

        'I think so. He talked about your main Genfarm as I recall, and that is the one near Preston isn't it? The other Farris property up that way grows more crops than Gens doesn't it?'

        The Sectuib nodded his head, although he had no idea what either farm grew. But it did seem feasible that crops would be grown on one of the farms. After all – food for the Gens would have to be grown somewhere.

        'Er… if I might ask… N'vet Farris. Why did you use your ring to barter for a Gen?'

        'As I told your man I was robbed, and that was true. As for the Gen. As you can zlin I am not in need, but I had to get into the castle – and for personal reasons – I did not wish for my identity to be known.' He improvised the story quickly and was relieved as he saw that the other Sime was accepting it without question. 'You may tell your guest that he will be well recomPensed for any injury I may have caused either to him – or his dignity.'

        'But, of course, N'vet Farris. Please think nothing more about it. I'm sure he won't either, not when he knows...'

        Jordan could zlin the man's fear as he rushed out the words… Now why should that be, he wondered? Studying the Sime Overseer closely, the Sectuib decided to try his luck once more as he said: 'Perhaps I can prevail upon you to loan me sufficient money to pay my way back to the farm?'

        'But of course… of course. And, please accept the money with my apologies for locking you up.' He opened one of the drawers in his desk and tossed a small money pouch across to Jordan. 'And don't even think about sending it back.' He urged – as his tentacles danced between his fingers in obvious agitation. He opened yet another drawer and returned Jordan's ring. 'The guard who took this from you in payment for the Gen, has been repremanded. I can assure you that it's not how we do business.'

        Jordan picked up the pouch and the ring as he said honestly, 'I'm unfamiliar with this part of the country. Where may I get transportation?'

        'Well now there's… Wait a minute. I have just had a thought. As you know if we catch real prime quality wild Gens some of them are always sent either to your family farm or Reynolds Farm. I believe they're used to widen the gene pool.'

Jordan listened in silence as the Overseer rambled on, though he was surprised that the Simes on this backward world even knew what a “gene” was.

'We have a shipment leaving early tomorrow morning for the Reynolds Farm. If you wouldn't mind a little discomfort you are more than welcome to accompany the driver. I could instruct him to take you to your home after he has dropped off his cargo…' His voice faded away as he looked across at the Channel expectantly.

Jordan hid his elation well as he accepted the offer.
        Later the Sectuib looked around the room in which he was now spending his last night at the castle. It was a far cry from the cell he had shared with young Arik the Great last night. He sighed as he thought of the young renSime, and wished he could do something to help him. But knew that that was impossible.

Likewise he worried about Laurence hiding out in the forest somewhere. Unfortunately there was no way that he could get a message to him either. He would just have to hope that his friend would bide his time in safety with Angus and the other Gens in his clan, till he could return for him. After all, even if he could contact him, there was no way that he could take the Gen with him to his “family” Genfarm, for he had no idea what he might find there.

In some ways what he was going to do was ridiculous in the extreme, but Logram had apparently gone in that direction. Since the whole reason for their visit to this planet was to find his cousin, then he had no alternative but to follow him to Preston, and at the same time satisfy his own curiosity about his “family” on this planet.

        For what remained of the long night Jordan sat and tried to remember everything he had ever read or each lecture he had attended about the time of chaos – and the period immediately following that time on Earth. Much of what he did recall made his blood run cold as he thought of what would happen to his Companion if he was ever captured.

        Strangely in all his discussions with Angus and other members of his Clan no one had ever mentioned Pens. Apparently from what he could gather there were only three ways of getting your monthly supply of selyn. One was by purchasing a Gen from either a military outpost like the one here at the castle. Two: from a Genfarm, or three – if you had no money to pay for either of these two options. Then your only recourse was to hunt or trap a wild Gen for yourself.

For some reason no one on this world had as yet come up with the idea that citizens should pay taxes for the privilege of receiving a Gen each month from the Government.

        Indeed, Jordan had discovered that while there was a Government of sorts in the capital city, it was kept in power only by the military. From what Jordan had been able to gather, it did nothing more than rubber stamp whatever the military told it to do.

        Jordan lay down on the bed his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. However, from what the Overseer had said about the Farris family and the man's obvious fear when he had heard that Jordan was one of them – it seemed that the Farrises had a great deal of power both above and beyond the military and the puppet government. But why should that be?

Swinging his legs to the floor he stood up again and began to walk up and down the large room, a slight frown touching his face as he considered the problem from every angle. Perhaps the answer was simple… Perhaps it was just the fact that they ran two Genfarms. Maybe more than two, for all he knew. Wealth alone must give them a lot of influence on this Godforsaken world.

Well, in a few hours time he would be on his way to the Farris farm. On the journey there he would have to see how much additional information he could get from the driver.

In the meantime, he also had to think up a suitable background for himself. Hopefully the Farris family on this world were as prolific as they were on Earth. Which meant he could perhaps pass himself off as a distant cousin or nephew – or even as an illegitimate relation. Indeed, the latter might present the least number of problems.

He walked over to stare into a small mirror on the wall to study his features. On Earth most Farrises looked a lot like each other. He could only hope that it was the same on this world, which could only help to corroborate his story.        

Jordan sat down on the bed once more and stretched his tentacles and then retracted them as he began to wonder, yet again, about Logram.

His cousin, who was only a Second, was still a Farris Channel – and had always been a bit of a wild card, often calling on Jordan or one of his other cousins to bail him out of tight spots that he had got himself into. But this time he had really gone too far.

Perhaps his one saving grace was the fact that he was a first class historian, and that being the case the Sectuib could well understand why a world like this – at this period in its history – would fascinate him.


        Jason watched Vidal disappear in the direction of the castle with grave misgivings; for the Gen knew that getting into the castle would probably prove to be very easy. Getting out again would not.

        The plan that Vidal had decided upon was full of far too many “ifs” and “ands.” If Jordan was there. If Logram was there. And what about Laurie? Was he there, too – or was he somewhere in the vast forest? Then again, what if none of them were in the castle at all? Would the Channel be able to find out if they had ever been there, or where they had gone?

        During the course of the three days that Vidal had allowed himself, Jason went over and over the same ground. Each time the outcome, as far as he could see, seemed to get worse and worse.

        To pass the time Jason riffled through their meagre belongings and found a small folding mirror at the bottom of Vidal's knapsack. Making his way from the outcrop of rock where Vidal had left him – and back into the forest – he found a suitable straight piece of wood and set about fixing the mirror to one end of the small branch by cutting a groove with his knife and pushing the mirror firmly down into it.

Once this was done he had to wait for the Sun to reach a position in the sky where the rays would not bounce off the mirror and alert the guards at the castle that they were being watched. Then he slowly held the stick up into the air so that just the mirror showed above the top of the rock, enabling him to get a clear view of the castle and its immediate environs without having to pop his head up into view.

Of course the contraption he had fashioned was not completely satisfactory. On occasion the mirror dropped out and had to be rammed back in again. But it was better than nothing – though all he actually saw was an occasional cart either arriving at or leaving the castle – or sometimes one or more Simes either walking or on horseback. Nothing to get excited about. But what he did not see was any sign of his partner.

        At the end of the three days Jason decided to make his way deep into the forest. Perhaps try to find the Gens who were supposedly hiding there. Keeping the rocks between himself and the castle, Jason edged deeper and deeper into the trees. As his goal this time was to find the Gens and not hide from them, Jason built a small fire that night and made little effort to keep his presence hidden. He whistled softly, as he cleared a spot of both twigs and stones where he could lie down in comparative comfort.

        Where the shen were the Gens? He looked around his small campsite before he went to relieve himself, and then made his way to the nearest water source where he bathed. Returning to the campsite he packed his knapsack again and was just in the process of eating one of his remaining food packs – wondering where he could find another food source, when he was hit firmly over the head from behind.

         He regained consciousness to find that his hands had been tied behind his back. His ankles were loosely shackled and his eyes were covered. He could only hope that his captors were Gen and not Sime.

        'What's going on?' He demanded at last, turning his head as he tried to ascertain how many captors there were.

        Without ceremony he was hauled to his feet and pushed forward. The shackles on his ankles were loose enough so that he could shuffle forward slowly.

        'Who are you? What have I done?' He asked again.

        'Shut up and get moving.' The voice sounded female rather than male, but he could be mistaken, perhaps the boy's voice had not yet broken. However, like Vidal had warned him, he had great difficulty in understanding the words. Although the language was undoubtedly English, the pronunciation was definitely alien to his ear.

        Moments later as he tried to obey the command he was given, his foot caught in a tree root and he once more measured his length on the ground.

        'Get up.'

        'I can't – not tied up like this I can't!'

        Again he was hauled to his feet. If it was a female she had to be very strong, if it was a boy then he could perhaps be Sime, Jason thought anxiously as he shuffled forward once more. Taking note of the fact that he could hear no one else in his immediate vicinity; he decided that that might be a good sign. It meant that he could perhaps tackle his lone captor, if only his hands were untied.

        'I… er… I have to relieve myself,' he said at last, in the hope that if it was a female who had tied him up, she might well undo his hands to allow him to perform this task.

        'You did that less than an hour ago. Now get moving or I'll hit you again and drag you along by that long hair of yours.'

        So he or she had been watching him for some time he thought with a sigh, which meant they were very good. For he had been looking for someone hidden in the undergrowth for some time, and had seen no one.

        'Where, exactly, are we going?'

        'You'll find out soon enough. Now like I said before, shut up. I won't tell you again.'

        Realising that he was going to get no further information from his captor Jason concentrated on stumbling blindly forward trying desperately not to fall down as he did so.

        It was over an hour, by his estimation, before he realised that he had walked into a large open space or clearing of some kind. He could hear talking and movement all around him.

        Suddenly he was pushed to his knees and felt himself fastened to what he presumed to be a tree stump.

        No one came near him or spoke to him for some considerable time, although he could smell the aroma of cooking reaching his nostrils from several different directions. His mouth began to salivate for he had been restricting himself to just one meal a day for some time. He had tried to make the food packs last for the longest time possible.

        More than anything else, the fact that his captors were actually cooking food brought him to the conclusion that they were Gen and not Sime. After all left to their own devices, he knew of no Sime who would make the effort and actually cook. Indeed, if they ate at all, it usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit. Something easy to prepare. Even Vidal had to be pushed into eating anything more substantial.

        He heard footsteps on the hard ground and wondered if they were coming towards him, or walking straight past. Moments later he felt the cold blade of a knife against his temple and the material covering his eyes fell to the ground.

        For a few moments he blinked in the gathering dusk and tried to look around as a tall lean man crouched down in front of him and stared him in the face. He did not look overly friendly – but he was a Gen.

        'What do you want here?' The man rasped. His speech, too, as Vidal had warned him, was difficult to understand – both because of the strange dialect and the fact that the man almost sing-songed the words together.

        'Nothing. I never asked to come here. I was brought.' Jason said at once speaking slowly in case the man had the same difficulty.

        'You're in our territory.'

        'I'm sorry. I had no idea it belonged to anyone. I'm not from around here.'

        The man guffawed before he said, 'That much is obvious.'

        'Look I think there's been some mistake. I'm making my way across country and got lost. I've been trying to avoid the Simes from the castle.' It was after all as near the truth as he could go.

        'We're all trying to do that. Where're you from?'

        'Back that way,' he nodded his head in the general direction from where he and Vidal had come.

        'And you're making for the Hollow Mountains, right?'

         'Yes I am.' Jason mentally crossed his fingers as he lied.

        The man snorted derisively. 'I don't know if you're telling me the truth or if you're a shenningly good liar.'

        'He's a liar, Angus.' It was the voice of his captor and Jason quickly turned his head to look at a short but surprisingly muscular female.

        'Why should I lie to you?' He demanded at once.

        'The Home Guard up at the castle will sometimes use a Gen spy to try and find out where we're hiding out. We keep moving and they keep trying.' Angus snapped angrily.

        Jason nodded his head. That would explain why he had been blindfolded he thought, as he said tongue in cheek, 'Where I come from Simes kill Gens. But they don't work with them.'

        'The lorshes don't work with them here. They just use them. Promise them all sorts they do. Then if we don't slit their throats the Guard kill them anyway. Same outcome either way.' Angus stated coldly then turned to the female as he said, 'Fetch him a bowl of soup, Fay. You can untie his hands while he eats it but have him watched carefully and tie him up again afterwards till we find out more about him.'
        The woman moved off to obey.

'Is she your wife?' Jason murmured.

        'Gens can't marry. Where've you been living?'

         'The Simes say we can't marry. But my people take no notice of that. We have our own way of doing things.' Jason said at once, playing the part he had decided on.

        The older man sighed. 'Unfortunately we spend most of our time moving from place to place – finding food and trying to avoid the hunt. We don't have time to think about any of the niceties of life.'

        'That's a pity.' Jason replied. 'After all it's the “niceties” as you call them that lifts us above the animals. Why let the Simes keep you down like that? If you'll take my advice, find the time and make your own laws to suit you.'

        'You sound just like Fay's brother. He's always saying that we should have our own territory separate from the Simes because there are more of us than them. But it wouldn't work.'

'Why not? If you do outnumber the Simes, then why not try?'

'Because they're more organised than we are, and we're scattered around the place – that's why.' He grunted the words as he got slowly to his feet and walked away calling a greeting to someone else as he went.

        Having eaten his fill of a surprisingly good soup, Jason spent an uncomfortable night tied to his post. Although, thankfully, his eyes this time were left unbound.

        In the early predawn hours he watched as a small group of Gens both male and female left the camp and disappeared silently into the forest. Jason guessed that they had probably gone scavenging for food.

        Later in the day he was taken to relieve himself and to wash before being tied up once again and fed. This time, with a bowl of oats and honey.

        Jason had begun to wonder if he would spend the rest of his life tied up here when another group of Gens this time all male entered the camp to much laughing and back slapping. Apparently from what Jason was able to deduce, they had been away for several days and the rest of the group had begun to wonder if they had run into trouble.

        Once the Gens had eaten their fill, several of them wandered across to stare down at him before they walked away again. With a sigh Jason, closed his eyes and wondered how much longer he would have to stay tied up here.

        Suddenly he felt someone crouch down in front of him and opened his eyes expecting to see either Angus or Fay looking at him, but it was neither.

        'Jason I don't believe it, what the shen are you doing here?'

        'Laurie! My God, it is you!' His face lit up with surprise and pleasure.

        'Didn't you get our letter?' Laurie whispered urgently.

        'Of course. How do you think we got here?'

        'Shh… Not so loud.' He was warned. 'You can tell me everything later. In the meantime I'll go and have a word with old Angus and vouch for you. See if we can't get you released. If he asks you anything, just follow my lead.' Jason nodded his head silently as his friend moved away and disappeared amongst the trees on the far side of the clearing.

        Less than an hour later Jason was untied and for a few minutes he sat quietly on the hard ground rubbing his ankles and wrists where the rope had bitten into his flesh leaving red marks; as he waited for Laurie to return.


        Vidal entered the castle via the front entrance. Like Jordan before him he changed his showfield to appear renSime.

        Using Jason's ring as barter he asked to purchase a Gen allowing the Guards to zlin his supposed state of need. He was hoping that the interim time delay before he actually collected his kill would allow him sufficient time to find out if either Logram or Jordan had been into the castle, or indeed if they were still there.

Like Jordan, he was thwarted when he realised that he would have to take his kill on the premises and could not take the Gen outside the castle walls because the corpse was cremated afterwards. This was because most of the surrounding country was desert consisting mainly of sand over rock, which made it virtually impossible to dig a hole deep enough for burial; on top of which the sand would quickly be blown off again.

        However, unlike the Sectuib, Vidal did not even get as far as the waiting room because he was suddenly arrested and taken down to the dungeons. He was given no reason or explanation why he was being incarcerated and was only told that he would be interviewed by the Overseer, later. And with that, he had to be content.

        The guards opened a cell door, pushed him inside and slammed it shut behind him. Vidal knew instantly that he was not alone as he zlinned a small ragged figure shuffle towards him out of the gloom.

        'You related to him?'

        'I beg your pardon?' As he spoke Vidal stared at the voluminous coat the boy was wearing, it was both greasy and dirty, and almost touched the floor. It was also made of animal skins, as most of the clothes on this planet appeared to be either that or wool.

        'I thought you were someone else when they threw you in here. But then I zlinned that you ain't.' The boy replied.

        'I'm sorry but I really have no idea what you're talking about,' Vidal confessed.

        'Don't matter. I'm Arik the Great. Who're you?'

        'Arik the who?'

        'He asked me that, too.'

        'Did he indeed. I'm not surprised. Well my name is Vidal, and can I ask, without being rude…what are you in here for?'

        'I killed a Gen. And before you ask – No – it didn't belong to me.'

        'I see.' Vidal paused before he asked, 'Didn't you pay your taxes?'

        'What's that got to do with it?'

        The Channel tried to remember his history lessons on Earth as he blundered on. 'I thought if you paid your taxes each month the Government are honour bound to give you a Gen.'

        The youngster laughed outloud. 'You've got to be joking! The military and the Home Guard collect taxes all right but they go right into their own pockets. They don't give Gens away for free. You either buy them or hunt them down. Where've you been living?' He demanded suspiciously.

        'Obviously not around here.' Vidal admitted ruefully. It appeared there were indeed similarities between this world and the Earth of centuries ago, but there were just as many differences. However, he still had to ask more questions, but he would have to be very careful when he did.

        'How long are you in here for?' Vidal asked as he lowered himself to the hard floor, and sat cross-legged looking up at his cellmate.

        The youngster gave a bark of laughter as he replied, 'Just till I stop breathing.' Seeing the question mark written large on the older man's face he went on to tell him what he had previously told Jordan.

        Vidal stared at him in horror. 'Are you telling me that they intend to put you in this cage and let you die from attrition?'

        'It looks that way. Mind you, I expected them to take me up there before now. But one of the lorshes said they're waiting till I'll be better entertainment for them, before they take me up.' Arik shuddered before he went on. 'So they took someone else who was in hard need. I heard the screams as they dragged him off.' He began to scratch himself with fingers and tentacles.

        The Channel shook his head in disbelief as he said slowly, 'I suppose they call themselves civilised.'

        For a while both of them sat in silence except for Arik who kept up the incessant scratching. The Channel knew that the youngster was probably covered in body lice. So as carefully as he could and without appearing to be too obvious about it, Vidal edged further and further away from the young renSime.

        'Ah… tell me Arik,' he said at last, 'the previous occupant of this cell, what was his name?'

        'He said it was Jordan.' The boy zlinned the Channel's reaction to this disclosure. 'You know him don't you?'

        'He's a friend of mine. Did he tell you why he was in here?'

        'I never asked.'

        'Did the guards take him out of here?' Vidal asked carefully.

        'Yeah, up to the Overseer for sentencing. But he never came down again.'

        'Did he by any chance ask you about someone called Logram?'

        'Yeah. He asked if I'd seen him.'

        'And had you?' Vidal demanded, feeling that getting information from young Arik was like drawing teeth…slow and painful.


        'And?' He pressed, but the boy merely looked at him. So he went on, 'And where did you see him? And where is he now?'

        'Like I told your friend – I seen him outside the Overseers' office when I was sentenced. And before you ask – no – I ain't seen him since.'

        They fell silent once more each with their own thoughts, till Vidal suddenly sprang to his feet and began to examine the walls with both his fingers and tentacles, zlinning the areas he could not easily reach.

        'No point in doing that. I've already been over every inch of it. There ain't no way out.' Arik informed him bleakly.

        'So it would seem.' Vidal agreed as he turned his attention to the door but to no avail.
        A day and night dragged slowly by, and whilst he felt sorry for the youngster and the fate that ultimately awaited him Vidal found his conversation less than stimulating. Although he did try to question him about life, in general, on this strange planet. It seemed that the boy was either to uneducated to respond sensibly to the questions he asked, or had no wish to do so. He was therefore relieved when the young renSime finally lay down and fell into a restless sleep which lasted just a little under two hours.

However, when he finally awoke he remained lying on the floor and Vidal made no effort to engage him in further conversation. A short while later he zlinned two guards outside the heavy wooden door. Moments later it swung open and one of the men pushed two bowls of food across the floor. It was the first food Vidal had seen since he came in here. And he hoped that any Gen prisoners would be fed more regularly.

        'Excuse me, when do I see the Overseer? I still have no idea why I'm in here,' The Channel called out politely.

        'Tomorrow if you're lucky. He's too busy today to bother with the likes of you.' The other guard replied and slammed the door shut.

        Rising to his feet once more Vidal went to fetch the food, placing one bowl within reach of young Arik.

        'I wouldn't eat that if I were you.'

        'Why not?'

        'They feed it to the Gens so it's drugged. I guess they can't be bothered to prepare anything separate for us.' Arik informed him.

        'I don't know of any drugs that affect both Gen and Sime.' Vidal murmured as he stared at the bowl of oats.

        'It doesn't affect us, not in the same way it don't. But it makes a Sime feel really sick. First time I tried some I threw up everywhere.'

        'Charming.' Vidal wrinkled his nose in distaste. 'In that case perhaps I won't bother.' Vidal said, as he pushed the bowl to one side.

        'You got any money?'

        Vidal shook his head as he admitted, 'I used a ring to barter for a Gen. Why?'
        'Because you can sometimes bribe one of the guards to let you out,' Arik stated and then went on. 'You related to anyone important – or do you know anyone who's got a bit of clout on the outside?'

        'Unfortunately, no. Not around here anyway.' Vidal confessed.

        'That's it then.' He said philosophically. 'You're done for.'

        Vidal sighed as he accepted that young Arik the Great was probably right. What more could he do? His only comfort was that Jason would reluctantly be making his way back to the portal during the course of the next day or so – which meant he would soon be safely back on Earth. Far away from this hellhole of a planet.

        He quickly went over once again all that had happened to him since he had entered the castle, but could still think of nothing he had done to warrant them arresting him and putting him down in the cells. He could only assume that the whole thing was a vast mistake. Hopefully, when he was brought before the Overseer it would be sorted out and he would be set free.

        He sighed as he propped himself up against the far wall of the cell and tried to decide what his next move should be – if and when he did get out of the castle. At least it helped to pass the time.

Jason, of course, would be long gone. So his main concern had to be, should he go in search of Jordan, Laurence and presumably Logram? And if he did, then who would he take transfer from when the time came?

The sensible thing, of course, would be for him also to return to Earth through the portal. But that would mean deserting his friends and that went very much against the grain. The only other alternative was for him to return to Earth, take transfer from Jason and return again to continue the search.

Of course all this was based on the assumption that he would eventually be set free. But – if they had manufactured a charge against him…?


        When Laurie returned he watched as Jason rubbed circulation back into his limbs.

        'How did you talk them into letting me go?' He asked as his friend helped him to his feet.

Angus and Fay are in charge around here. They're not bad people. Once I told them that I could vouch for you…' Laurie shrugged his shoulders.

        'Is Jordan here?'

        'No. But we did come here together…'

        'Hey wait a minute.' Jason said, interrupting him. 'If they treat all their visitors like this. How on earth was Jordan not found out?'

        'We were lucky. Some of the Gens were out hunting food when they were set upon by a party of Simes. We happened to see what was going on and pitched in to help. Angus was grateful – so, thankfully – neither of us were searched.' Laurie shrugged his shoulders.

        'So where's Jordan now?'

        'In the castle. At least he was. I can only assume he's still there because he hasn't come back here.'

        'Snap! So is Vidal.'

        'What? Come on let's take a walk so we can both catch up on things.' Laurie said as he led the way deeper into the forest.

        Some time later found the two men crouched at the base of a large tree still talking softly.

        'So they must both still be in there.' Jason said finally.

        Laurie nodded his head. 'Any ideas about how we can get them out again?'

        Jason grinned. 'At least we're both thinking along the same lines.'

        'We usually do when we haven't got the Channels interfering.' Laurie said with an answering smile.

        'By the way, how did you explain Jordan's absence to Angus?'

        'Simple, really. We left camp together early one morning. When I returned without Jordan I told them we'd met a Sime hunting party and he got caught. But I was lucky enough to escape.' Laurie said. 'I asked Angus if there was any way into the castle to rescue him. Of course he said no, and he also said that he thought I was mad to even suggest it.'

        Jason got suddenly to his feet and held out a hand to pull his friend up. 'Let's walk on a bit further.'

        The two men set off side by side till Laurie said, 'Well I can't think of anything – what about you?'

        'About getting into the castle? Yes. I think I have.'

        'Well come on. Don't keep me in susPense.'

        'It's simple really. We let ourselves be captured.'

        Laurence stared at him for several seconds before he said, 'I meant “sensible” ideas.'

        'It is sensible. Just think about it for a moment or two. I don't mean we let ourselves be taken by one of the hunting parties. I would imagine one or two of the Simes will get carried away and try for a kill, and it might just be one of us. Now I don't for a second believe that a renSime even in kill mode could hurt either of us, but the last thing we want to do is to give them cause for suspicion.'

        Laurie nodded his head slowly in agreement before he said, 'There is another way. The Home Guard from the castle have dug animal traps at various points throughout the forest. Every few days they check them out. We could climb down into one of them and…'

        Jason grinned broadly as he interrupted him to say, 'Good idea. Let's do it!'

        Returning to the camp they told Angus about their plan. For a few moments he looked at them, shock written large on his lined face.

        'Angus, you've met Jordan. You know he's a good man. I can't just leave him there.'

        'I doubt he's there any longer, not alive anyway,' the elderly Gen murmured back. 'But I suppose it's your life – and if you both want to risk it in this foolhardly manner – who am I to say you can't?'

        The next morning having left their knapsacks with Angus for safekeeping, he and some of his followers escorted them to a pit that was situated on the edge of the forest. Lowering down one of their ladders, which they made out of plant vines, they watched in silence as Laurie and Jason disappeared into the hole. Then they all wished them luck before they pulled their ladder up again and silently vanished back into the forest.

        'I got the impression that none of them expect to see us again.' Jason murmured as he looked around for a dry spot on which he could sit.

        'I tend to agree with them.' Laurie replied. 'I just hope we don't have to wait down here for days.'

        Thankfully his wish was granted as just before nightfall they both heard the sound of voices. Together with the snap of twigs as a small group of Simes approached the pit.

        Seconds later several Simes jumped down into the pit beside them and they were tied hand and foot while a hood was pulled unceremoniously over their heads – before they were manhandled out of the pit and taken to the castle.

        It was several hours before the two men saw each other again. They had been stripped and searched, then dressed once more in their light grey sleeveless tunics and baggy pants, before they were both quite literally thrown into a large cell where a dozen other Gens were already imprisoned.

        It took very little time for them to realise that their fellow Gens were quite obviously drugged, and were therefore incapable of giving them any information about the castle or the guards.

        'They didn't inject me with anything.' Laurie whispered.

        'Nor me. Mind you, it doesn't mean that they won't inject us later.' Jason pointed out.

        'No. I don't think they'll do it that way somehow.' Laurie replied. 'They're more likely to put the drugs in our food. It's a quick and easy way for them to administer it to all of us over a period of time.'

        'You're probably right. So I guess that means…' He looked at his friend and shrugged, '…we don't eat.'

        'Let's hope we won't be in here long enough for it to bother us.' Laurie grinned.

        'I'm already bothered.' Jason admitted wryly, and then said 'I think the best time to try and get out of here will be after breakfast tomorrow.'

        'You're sure they intend to feed us breakfast?'

        'If you're correct and they are using the food to drug everyone, then yes. They'll feed us regularly – and they'll watch us carefully till they think we've eaten enough of the stuff to be like these others.' He pointed at the other lethargic looking Gens in the cell. 'So like I said, Laurie, after breakfast tomorrow will probably be as good a time as any other.'

        A short while later the evening meal arrived. It consisted of a thick vegetable soup with a slab of greyish looking bread. Once the guards had departed both Laurie and Jason offered their food to their fellow Gens who accepted with alacrity.

        'Did you notice, only two Simes brought us down here, and only two brought the food; but neither of them turned their backs on us?'

        'Because they know we haven't eaten the food yet.' Jason pointed out at once.

        'Let's hope they're a bit more lax tomorrow morning.' Laurie replied as he lay down and tried to rest on the hard floor. It was going to be a long night.

        'Laurie wake up!' Jason shook his friend's shoulder till he opened his eyes and stared around.

'Shen. Every square inch of my body is aching.'

        'It didn't stop you sleeping though, did it?' Jason said sourly. 'I've been awake half the night listening to both you – and them – snoring.'

        'So what time do you reckon the food will arrive?'

        'Any time now. I suggest we jump them as soon as they bring it in. I just wish I had a weapon. I should never have left everything in my knapsack. It was a bad move.'

Laurie shook his head as he said 'You had no choice. Besides, they would have found any weapons when they searched us. But don't forget they'll be zlinning us, so make sure you dampen your field so they don't suspect that anything is about to happen. You take the one who brings in the food. I'll take the one by the door.'

'Okay, but remember I'm not all that good at manipulating my field. Not like you.' Jason pointed out.

'That can't be helped. Just do your best, and remember we have one thing on our side. A couple of drugged Gens jumping them will be the last thing they expect.'

'I still wish I had a weapon.' Jason murmured for the second time.

'But you do.' Laurie said softly. 'We're both Companions and TN-1's. If we use those two things correctly, they won't stand a chance.'

        'I hope you're right.'

        'I guarantee it.'

        Their Gen cellmates were now standing up and huddling together and staring at the door as they waited for their food. Carefully, Laurie and Jason moved to stand alongside them.

        'Any ideas as to where we should look when we get out of here?' Jason whispered.

        'You mean, for Jordan and Vidal?' Jason nodded his head. 'Well as far as I could tell on the way down here last night, we're in the dungeons. So if they're still in the castle, it's going to be down here. We'll just have to search the place as quickly as we can and hope for the best.'

        'And what then?'

        Laurie chuckled softly. 'One thing at a time, my friend. Let's find them first. Miracles are harder to come by.'

        The door of the cell swung open as the Sime outside straight-armed it and then stood to one side as his fellow Sime brought in a large pot of food placing it on the floor for the Gens to help themselves.

        As he turned to leave, Jason jumped him. Peripherally aware as he did so, that the commotion he could hear was Laurie attacking the other guard by the door.

The Sime Jason was facing was only taken by surprise for a brief second before he, too, began to fight back. Jason realised with surprise that the Sime was attacking him in kill mode. Tripping over one of the drugged Gens behind him Jason ended up on his back with the Sime swooping down onto him – his face like a vicious mask – and yet there was nothing he could do.

        Laurie, meanwhile, realising that he could not fight the guard in a conventional manner, used his field instead to tempt the Sime into attacking him. Then as Laurie moved almost eagerly into the guard's arms their lips touched and there was hardly a dynopter of selyn flow before Laurie shenned him. The renSime's nager went flat as he dropped dead at his feet.

At that very moment, the guard who was attacking Jason stopped as though frozen in time as he felt the other Sime being shenned. It gave Jason the moment he required in which to come to his senses and act. He grasped the man's arms as he had been taught to do, His fingers digging savagely into the tender nerves. A scream of pure shen came from the Sime's mouth as he, too, dropped dead on the floor.

        Standing up, his legs weak with shock, Jason turned his head to see Laurie dragging his dead opponent to the other side of the cell away from the door. 'Fetch him over here,' he called nodding towards the other dead Sime, and Jason obeyed.

        'Now let's get the shen out of here.'

        'What about them?' Jason asked pointing to the other Gens.

        'There's nothing we can do for them. We'll leave the door ajar. If they come around enough from the drugs they can try to escape. But that's up to them now. Our job is to try and find Jordan and Vidal before someone raises the alarm.' Laurie stated as he hustled his friend towards the door.

        'Shall we split up?' Jason suggested once they were in the corridor outside the cell. 'You go right and I'll go left?'

        'No. It's best if we stick together.' Laurie said decisively and turned right. 'Take note of where the empty cells are,' he instructed as he stood on tiptoe to stare into yet another one. 'We may have to double back and use one of them to hide in if we encounter any Simes up ahead. Keep your ears open.'

        The corridor bent and twisted. The floor was uneven as the two men almost ran down it stopping only to make sure that the various cells on each side of the corridor were indeed empty – or if they were occupied by their friends.

        Suddenly Jason came to a complete halt as he stared through one of the doors, only to find himself propelled backwards as Laurie pushed him into one of the empty cells and closed the door dragging his friend into the far corner where the rock walls would hopefully shield them.

        'What's the matter?' Jason demanded in a hoarse whisper.

        'Simes. At least two of them. I heard them coming up one of the side corridors. They were wheeling something.' He said sotto voce.

        'Thank God for rock walls.' Jason murmured back.
        'Amen to that.'

        Standing in silence they heard the Simes walk by the door pushing a cart that trundled along on the uneven floor. Moments later the sound disappeared into the distance as they turned into yet another side corridor.

        'I saw Vidal in the last cell I looked in.' Jason informed his friend.


        'No. But he could have been out of sight.'

        'Did Vidal zlin you through the door?' Laurie demanded.

        'Haven't a clue. I simply saw him – just as you pushed me away.'

        'Let's go and find out. I think it's safe out there now.' The two Gens tiptoed to the door. Jason stuck his head out and looked up and down the corridor.

        Laurie laughed softly. 'Don't bother. You might just as well step out there,' he said, 'Simes will zlin your finger, let alone your head!'

        A loud cough echoed up the side corridor and Laurie dragged Jason back into the cell. 'More Simes on the way. We seem to have picked the wrong time of day.'

        Another cough reached their ears. 'I think they've gone into Vidal's cell.' Laurie hissed into Jason's ear. 'And if they have, then the door's unlocked.'

        'Are you suggesting we make our move now?'

        'Why not? How are we going to open the door otherwise?' Laurie pointed out.

        'And if there's more than two Guards?'

        'Then either Jordan or Vidal will have to pitch in. Come on we don't have time to waste.'

        'They might zlin us creeping up on them.'

        'Only if one of them stays outside the door. If they've both gone inside and we stay flattened against the rock wall right up to the last minute, we might be lucky.'


        Vidal sat and zlinned young Arik, wondering how he managed to sleep so much. Most Simes got along with two hours at the most.

        Suddenly his attention was diverted to the corridor outside the cell and he wondered if the guard had arrived to take him up to the Overseer. As he zlinned through the thick wooden door he was taken aback – as for just a moment he sensed Jason's field. But the familiar nager disappeared as quickly as it had come.
        Vidal shook his head. He had heard of hallucinations, of course, but he had never heard of anyone experiencing such an event whilst zlinning! Either he was going crazy or a very familiar Gen really was out there in the corridor.
        He could only hope that he was mistaken.
         He was just getting to his feet to go and investigate the phenomena when he heard the distinct scrape of footsteps and the door slowly swung open. Three Simes entered the room.

        The first Guard, holding a lethal looking club moved to cover Vidal. The other two walked towards the young renSime.

        'Come on Arik the Great. We've got a fine new room waiting for your highness.' One of the guards said with a laugh, as he approached the young renSime and kicked him viciously for no apparent reason.

        'You ain't putting me in no cage,' the renSime said defiantly as with augmented speed he got to his feet and retreated to the rear of the cell.

        'Come on boy. You know you've got no choice in the matter. You might just as well come along peaceful like. We'll only have to knock your head in and drag you there if you don't.' One of the Guards stated.

        'Shen it. He's covered in body lice,' the other guard said taking a step backwards as the youngster began to scratch vigorously.

        At that precise moment Jason and Laurie came flying through the door. Laurie unceremoniously pushed the Sime guarding Vidal into his arms. 'Take care of him,' he shouted at the Channel as he used his field to entice one of the other guards.

Jason followed suit, and for a moment sheer chaos reigned as the three guards and young Arik all turned towards the two Gens. Realising what was happening Vidal quickly and efficiently disposed of the Guard that Laurie had propelled towards him.

Meanwhile, the other three renSimes were squaring off against each other ready to fight over Laurie and Jason. Then the two guards suddenly tossed young Arik to one side as they flew towards the two Gens.

Bracing themselves the Gens accepted the kill mode attack of the two Guards and the next moment simultaneous, yet silent, claps of thunder filled the small cell as the two Gens shenned their attackers and watched dispassionately as the two men fell dead at their feet.

        Turning quickly, Laurie saw that Vidal had taken care of the third guard who was lying unconscious on the floor. Young Arik the Great was now stalking Jason – his tentacles out ready to attack. Then just as suddenly –Vidal, who was now augmenting, jumped over the bodies of the two dead Guards and took the young Sime in transfer position. Within moments it was over. Arik was staring up at the Channel as though he could not quite believe his eyes.

        'What the shen did you do to me!?' The boy shouted in fury as he found his voice, fear evident on his young face.

        'I gave you transfer. You're all right now aren't you?' Vidal demanded, as he used his tentacles to rub his own aching head.

'I wish you'd give me a warning when you decide to shen someone,' he said to the two Gens as he pointed to the dead Guards with a tentacle.

        'No time I'm afraid.' Laurie said and pushed Jason towards Vidal. 'Help him.' He ordered briefly as he turned back to young Arik.

        'You okay now?' Laurie asked the renSime.

        'What did you do to me?' The boy said again – still addressing Vidal.

        'No time for explanations I'm afraid. We've got to go.' Laurie said and turned back to Vidal, 'Are you okay now? Can you walk?'

        'I believe so,' the Channel said as he leaned on his Companion's field. Turning to look at young Arik who surprisingly seemed none the worse for being so near to the shenning. He said quietly, 'My friends and I are going to leave here now. You may remain here or come with us. The choice is yours.'

        'I'm coming,' the boy said at once.

        'Good. Then, Gentlemen, I suggest we go.'

        'Just a minute, Vidal. Where's Jordan?' Laurie asked.

        'According to young Arik they took him out of the cells and he didn't come back.' Vidal informed them and then said gently. 'I don't think he's in the castle any longer, Laurie.

        'Then where the shen is he? If they'd let him go free, he'd have come to find me.'

        'No doubt he would. Unless he thought it would be safer for you to remain in the forest, than to go with him.' Vidal suggested.

        'Are you saying that because it's what you would have done?' Jason asked suspiciously.

        Vidal sighed inwardly before he said unequivocally, 'Yes it is exactly what I would have done, and I make no apologies for it either.'

        Jason shook his head at his partner in near exasperation as he asked, 'Has anyone any idea at all, about how we can get out of here?'

'None.' Laurie admitted as he led the way through the cell door.

        'I have.' Arik stated and three pairs of eyes turned to look at him. 'I know someone who works here, one of the cleaners. He told me about a side entrance that the staff use, near the east tower.'

        'The east tower it is then. Take the lead Arik and show us the way.' Vidal instructed.

        To the surprise of everyone their luck held, and in less than an hour they were outside the castle. They neither heard the sound of an alarm, or a chase. With Arik still leading the way they headed towards the forest keeping as many of the rocks between themselves and the castle as they could. Laurie hid his own field, while Vidal took care of Jason's. They were soon plunging deep into the trees and undergrowth.

        Vidal took over the lead and led them unerringly to the small camp that he and Jason had set up when they had first arrived at the forest.

        'I can zlin no one in the vicinity.' Vidal informed them.

        'I think Jason and I had better go and see Angus and pick up our knapsacks.' Laurie said and he quickly told Vidal who Angus was and how he and Jordan had met him.

        'See if you can get some fresh food, too,' Vidal suggested as the two Gens disappeared into the undergrowth.

        Arik sat in silence until he could no longer zlin the Gens as they moved further and further into the forest. Finally he turned to look at Vidal. 'What did you do to me back there? And how can you be “friends” with them?' He suddenly blurted out pointing with one tentacle in the direction that Jason and Laurie had taken.

        The Channel sighed as he wondered how to answer either of the questions he had been posed.

        'Where I come from, some of the Simes – those that are like me – can transfer selyn to their fellow Simes. We're called Channels.'

        The youngster stared at his tentacles before he confessed, 'I didn't like it much.'

        'Well, that's probably because I've not had much practice. I know some Channels who are so good you'd never know they weren't Gen. I guarantee it.'

        Young Arik retracted his tentacles before he said, 'I suppose I could take this…transfer did you say?' Vidal nodded his head, 'in an emergency. But not all the time.'

        'That would be up to you,' Vidal said at once, pleased that the boy was not asking him any of the really difficult questions.

        'What about the Gens?'
        'I've known them for years. They…er…they saved my life,' he improvised quickly. 'Can't very well kill someone who saves your life, can you?'

        'No I suppose not,' Arik said reluctantly. 'Just don't expect me to be friends with them.'

        'That's your decision.'

        For a few minutes the two men worked in silence clearing the campsite to accommodate four instead of two. Arik who had obviously been thinking things over suddenly asked. 'How did they kill the guards? And they did kill them, you know, I felt the selyn movement!'

        'Yes. And like me, you almost blacked out. But then it tipped you over into kill mode – which is why I intervened.'

        'Gens can't kill Simes – not like that.'

        'Oh, yes they can, Arik. You saw and felt it for yourself.'

        'Killer Gens! No one is going to believe me.'

        'No, they'll probably say you've gone mad.' Vidal agreed at once. 'So I wouldn't mention it to anyone if I were you.'

        The boy nodded, and then began to scratch.

        Several hours later the two Gens returned carrying the four knapsacks and a basket filled with vegetables and fruit and a small stew pot. While the two Gens set about lighting a fire and preparing the vegetables for cooking, the Channel decided he had had more than enough of the young renSime's incessant scratching…
        'There's a pool fed by a small stream about twenty yards in that direction,' Vidal informed him, 'why don't you go and take a bath, and change your clothes.'

        'I ain't got no other clothes,' Arik pointed out.

        'Wait.' The Channel riffled quickly through the knapsacks pulling out clean pants and socks before he added one of Jordan's tunics to the pile, together with a bar of soap and a comb. Here put these on and throw your own clothes away – all of them.' He advised pointing to the coat.

        The renSime looked shocked as he said, 'Leave the coat?'

        'Yes. Bury it in the dirt beside the stream. It's full of fleas, Arik. Besides you're Sime. You can regulate your body heat to keep warm without wearing a top coat can't you?'

        'I suppose.' Getting reluctantly to his feet the boy picked up the pile of clean clothes and the soap and comb and began walking in the direction that Vidal had indicated.

        'And don't forget to wash your hair,' the Channel called after him.

        Jason looked across at Vidal as he placed the stew pot on top of the fire and poked at the contents with a stick before he said. 'Did you have to serve the boy? You know it's going to cause entran.'

        'You almost knocked him out when you shenned the Guards. I expected him to be unconscious; but he's quite a tough young fellow. So he either took transfer from me, or one of you. Quite frankly, I'd rather not give either of you to anyone. When we find Jordan he will no doubt require transfer – and so will I.' He pointed out. 'And if two Companions like you can't pull me through entran…' He shrugged his shoulders expressively and then glanced towards the forest as he said, 'Arik the Great's on his way back.'

        'What's all this “Arik the Great” stuff anyway?' Laurie asked.

        'He never got around to telling me. You'll have to ask him yourself.' Vidal said with a brief laugh.

        The pants and tunic were miles to long for him and he had rolled up the legs. At least he looked clean and fairly wholesome again, as he handed Vidal the comb and what remained of the small tablet of soap.

        The Channel sat and ate something that looked vaguely similar to a large parsnip, while the Gens divided the stew between them and quickly wolfed the lot down. Arik the Great, however, had not wanted to eat anything at all – and then only ate part of a raw vegetable at Vidal's insistence – and with obvious reluctance.

        Later the two Gens sat and grinned at each other as they listened to Vidal lecturing the boy on all the reasons why Simes should eat a minimum of two meals a day.

        'He might try taking his own advice sometimes,' Jason whispered in an aside to his fellow Gen. 'He makes damn sure that I eat, but himself?'

        When they had all finished eating, they drew closer to the fire to talk.

        'Fay said we should leave the stew pot here. Some of their men will pick it up next time they pass this way.' Jason said.

        Laurie stirred up the embers of the fire with a stick before he said, 'When we first made contact with Angus and the other Gens, Jordan asked if he'd heard of any Householdings. He hadn't. But he did say that there were Crop and Genfarms on the plains just beyond the Hollow Mountains – on the outskirts of a city called Preston. I've been wondering if Jordan might have been taken there.

        'Arik, have you ever heard of Preston?' Vidal asked.

        'Yeah, it's a really big city. Almost as big as the Capital. But I ain't ever been there.'

        'Did Angus say exactly how far away this city is?' Vidal wanted to know.

        'Like I said before, it's on the plains the other side of the Hollow Mountains.' Laurie stated. 'He didn't tell me exactly how far the city is from here – but he might have told Jordan.'

        'Hey did I hear you right – did you just say Genfarms?' Jason asked looking at his fellow Gen with raised eyebrows.

        'Yes. Indeed he did.' Vidal said. 'Well, that settles it. You and Laurie must remain here. I'll make my own way to the city and perhaps stop off at some of the Farms, see if I can find any trace of Jordan or Logram on the way.'

        'Now just a minute.' The two Gens spoke in unison, before Jason went on. 'I, for one, have no intention of staying here. So you can forget that idea right now.'

        'I second that.' Laurie said at once.

        Vidal sighed out loud running his tentacles through his hair in a distracted manner. Here he was on this hellish planet with not one, but two stubborn Gens to look after and be responsible for. Bad enough having Jason on his own – but with Laurie, too? Shen and Shid!

Of course the Gens had no real idea of what it was like for any Gen to actually live here – where Gens had no rights at all – save the right to be bought and sold by a Sime, and ultimately killed by one. He decided to try one more time to make the two of them see sense. Though from past experience he just knew it was going to be a hopeless task.

        'If you were to accompany me to the city,' he said slowly, 'have you any idea what that will mean?' Then he turned to young Arik for support, as he asked – remembering his Earth history. 'When someone transports Gens across country do they have to have tags?'

        'Tags did you say? Can't say I've ever heard of them. But they would have to wear a collar so you can attach a handling chain, their hands would have to be tied and their feet shackled.' The young Sime replied at once.

        Vidal pounced. 'See…see what you would have to wear? How would the two of you feel about that?'

        Then before either Gen could reply Arik said, 'Can't be done anyway.'

        'Why not?' Vidal demanded turning to the young Sime with obvious relief.

        'You can only lead one at a time. More than that and you've got to have a proper Trade Licence – and they can't be got.'

         'Well there you go.' The Channel said triumphantly assuming that that ended the argument.

        'Now just a minute;' Laurie began. Jason opened his mouth to argue and then shut it again.

         'I can lead one of them.'

         Three pairs of eyes turned to look at the renSime.

        'What did you say?' Vidal asked coldly.

        'I said – “I can lead one of them”.' The boy repeated.

'But you aren't going to Preston.' The Channel reminded him quickly.

        'No reason why I shouldn't. I ain't got anywhere else to go.'

        'Right, then. That's settled,' Jason said with delight.

        'No. It's most definitely not settled.' Vidal stated. 'Where do you think we can get collars, chains and shackles? Not counting horses – for the four of us.'

        'Only two horses,' Young Arik broke in to say. 'Gens don't ride. Look strange if they did.'

        'Fantastic.' Laurie murmured angrily.

        'It doesn't bother me,' Jason said, 'I'm not all that keen on horses anyway.'

        'Never mind that,' Vidal said. 'What do we use to buy food for the pair of you?'

        'Once we arrive on the plains on the other side of the mountains, there will be lots of small homesteads and crop farms with orchards. Getting vegetables and fruit won't be hard.' Arik said.

        'You mean we should resort to stealing the food,' Vidal said, glaring at young Arik the Great – willing him to stop being quite so helpful.
        The renSime shrugged. 'You can always let them starve – they're only Gens after all.'

        'Well, thanks a lot Arik. I love you, too.' Jason murmured sarcastically. The Sime ignored him.

        'As for the collar and other stuff we can get that up at the castle,' the boy informed them.

        'Castle? We've only just got out of the shenning place,' Laurie reminded him.

        'He has a point Arik.' Vidal murmured looking at the boy.

        'We don't have to go into the castle. The blacksmith lives just outside the walls. He goes drinking most nights. It won't be hard to slip into the forge and get a couple of collars and chains. He won't even miss them.'

        'That still leaves the horses.'

        'There's a corral on the other side of the castle. We can pick up a couple of horses and some rope.' The renSime said in a matter of fact voice.

        'What's the rope for?' Vidal asked.

        'To make loose shackles for their feet and to tie their hands,' the youngster said at once before he demanded yet again. 'Where've you been living?'

        The Channel gave a cynical laugh as he said 'Obviously a very long way from here.' He paused and then went on. 'Dare I ask what the penalty is for stealing a horse?'

        'Death by…'

        'Don't bother, Arik. I think I already know.' Vidal said wearily.

        'Right. So I take it we're all going together,' Jason jumped in to ask. A broad grin on his handsome face.

        'So it would seem. But I would like to put it on record that I strongly disagree with all...'

        'Yes, of course you do. That goes without saying.' Jason said with a wink at the other Gen. 'And while Laurie and I tidy up here, and try to grab a few hours sleep, why don't you and young Arik go and see what you can find up at the castle.'

        'I, for one, will want more than a few hours sleep if we've got to walk all the way to the city,' Laurie said with a yawn.


        The two Gens woke to find Arik showing Vidal how to fashion leg shackles from rope.

        'No… No, not like that. Looser than that. They have to be able to walk, but not run. Yes, that's better.'

        'I see you were successful,' Laurie murmured as he got up and went to inspect the two mares tethered to one side of the clearing.
        Jason was staring at the metal collars and chains, a frown on his face.

        'Changed your mind?' Vidal said hopefully, as he zlinned his partner carefully.

        Jason ignored him as he pulled on his shoes and moved off in the direction of the pool.

        'There's something a bit strange about the horses,' Laurie murmured as he studied the two mares. 'They seem much bigger than they should be, and I've never seen horses quite that colour before.'

        Vidal nodded as he said musingly, 'Yes. I thought the same when I first saw them. I would imagine that the original Gens who came from Earth brought some horses with them, but not many. And over the years they've been crossbred, probably with some of the indigenous horses.'

        'Sounds feasible. By the way, did you run into any trouble last night?' Laurie asked Vidal as he stroked the nose of one of the horses.

        'No, and I hate to tempt fate, but it was surprisingly easy.'

         'I can see a whole new career opening up for you, Vidal,' his partner said facetiously as he arrived back at the camp, and went to get a piece of fruit out of the basket for his breakfast.

        'Leave that for a moment,' Vidal called across. 'Let me try this on you first.'

        Jason put the fruit down and walked across to the Channel as Laurie wandered off in the direction of the stream.

        'No. I can't see what I'm doing with you looming over me like that. Crouch down. Ah… that's better.' Vidal said as he picked up one of the metal collars and placed it around his partner's neck. Then, using his tentacles, he applied equal pressure at the various points marked on the collar, and nodded with satisfaction as the lock clicked into place.

        'It can't be opened without tentacles.' Arik murmured as he worked on the leg shackles.

        Picking up one of the chains the Channel fastened it to the collar and then wound the long chain round and round his Companion's neck, before he nodded his head once again. 'Now go and eat your fruit before we try the leg shackles.'

        Jason was angry, although he had no idea who he was angry with. Not Arik. After all he was only doing what they had asked him to do – on top of which he really didn't know any better.

Not Vidal, either. After all, if the Channel had his way, Jason would not be going with him. And Laurie? Well, he was only interested in finding Jordan.

Perhaps he was angry at himself – though why, he really didn't know. He simply knew that he was angry. Maybe it was this shendi fleckin' world. He was, after all, a modern Gen or so he liked to think. And put quite simply, he just wasn't used to being treated as less than a third class citizen. It really didn't sit well with him.

        'Is something wrong, Jason?' The Channel's voice broke into his thoughts.

        Glancing across at his friend he managed to force a smile to his lips, as he shook his head emphatically, 'Of course not.'

        Vidal gave an answering smile as he mouthed the word, 'liar,' before he turned his attention back to planning their journey.

        Less than an hour later and the four men and two horses were ready to leave the sanctuary of the forest and set off towards the Hollow Mountains.

        The Simes had not been able to obtain saddles for the mares, and the two men had to make do with a folded horse blanket. They each held one of the long chains that were fastened to the Gen's collars. The shackles around their ankles were long and loose enough to allow them to walk unimpeded.

To make things a little easier on the pair of them, Vidal had only fastened the rope to one wrist, leaving the other wrist free. If anyone came close enough, the Gens could slip their hand through the remaining loop so that it would appear that their hands were both fastened securely – even though they were not.

'It's the best I can do.' Vidal admitted as he glanced from one to the other.

'Stop worrying,' Laurie said with a smile. 'I'm sure this isn't the worst ordeal we've been through is it, Jason?'

        Jason pulled himself together heroically as he tried to accept the other Gen's banter. 'No. I guess not,' he agreed with a wry smile of his own.

        'Good. Well if that's settled, perhaps we can make a start,' Vidal stated as he jumped lightly up onto the mare's back and set off with Jason walking beside him.

        Once they left the safety of the forest and eventually reached the trail that lead almost directly to the Hollow Mountains, Arik brought his mount up alongside Vidal's, while the two Gens walked on the outside of the two mares.

        Laurie glanced up at the young Sime who rode silently beside him – his eyes staring straight ahead and asked, 'By the way, Arik, have you and Vidal named the horses yet?'

        The renSime stared straight ahead, ignoring the question.

        'Hey, “Arik the Great” or whatever your shenning name is. I just asked you a question.' Laurie said once more. Then after a few minutes he tried again. 'Are you deaf, or what?'

        'Perhaps he forgot to wash his ears when he went to the stream.' Jason murmured.

        'No I'm not deaf. But I don't speak to no Gens. You ain't people. You're nothing but…food. Don't talk to me again.'

        'Don't worry I won't. I'd rather talk to the horse's backside. It's got more intelligence than an ignorant lorsh like you.' Laurie retaliated before he requested, 'Let out some more of the chain. I'll walk behind.'

        Arik obeyed and moments later the Gen was bringing up the rear still fuming at the arrogance of the young Sime. A short while later, Jason, too, dropped back to walk beside him. 'Vidal said not to let young Arik get to you.'

        'He already has. I've met some ignorant lorshes in my time but he really… Jason do you realise how lucky we are to live on a tolerant planet like Earth?'

        'Yes. But it wasn't always that way. It was very much like this. Maybe, for all we know, a lot worse.' His friend reminded him as he grabbed the mare's tail to help him up the slight incline they were now on.

        For another mile or so they walked in silence, and then Jason said, 'you know Laurie, Vidal, and I presume Jordan, too – keep talking about this being a planet in another galaxy.'

        'So? Isn't that exactly what it is?' Laurie asked at once.

        'How do we know? After all, when we were back on Earth and got your letter. Vidal was talking about there being a “time” element to this wormhole. How do we know we haven't gone back in time – to the time of chaos, on Earth – and not another planet at all?' Jason asked triumphantly as he glanced across at his fellow Gen.

        Laurie chuckled softly as he said quietly, 'You've obviously been sleeping really well since you arrived here.'

        'What does that mean?'

        'It means, my friend, that tonight just take a couple of minutes before you close your eyes and look up at the sky. There isn't one familiar constellation visible from here.' Laurie pointed out at once. 'And if that isn't enough for you, a second Moon rises at about three in the morning.'

        'Oh.' Jason shook his head sheepishly before he said, 'By the way, “Meg and Peg”.'

        '“Meg and Peg” what?' –

        'You asked if they'd named the mares. Vidal has called them Meg and Peg. I think he likes the names. He's used them before.'

        'Oh.' Laurie laughed as he admitted, 'I wasn't really all that interested. I was just making idle conversation.'

         'Yeah, that's what I thought.' The two friends walked in amiable silence for the next mile or so before Jason asked, 'Do you think we stand any real chance of finding Jordan and his cousin?'

        'I've no idea, but we can't just leave them here.'

        'We may have to. Well we may have to leave Logram anyway. After all if the dead Gen I told you about was travelling with Logram, then we can only assume that by now he could be junct.' Jason reminded him bluntly.

        'Thanks. I've been trying to forget that.' Laurie walked on frowning slightly before he said, 'Changing the subject somewhat. Do you trust the renSime?'

        'Young Arik?'

        Laurie nodded. 'I don't just mean because of his attitude towards both of us – and Gens in general –after all that's to be expected… I can honestly see us in a situation where if it's to his advantage to turn us over to the authorities, he'd do it without a second thought.'

        'I agree, and so does Vidal for that matter. But what choice do we have? After all, if he hadn't come along, then one of us would've had to stay behind.' He paused and then said, 'He's a necessary evil. But we'll still have to keep a close eye on him.' Then he sighed as he observed, 'I hope Vidal calls a halt soon. I'm just not used to all this exercise so early in the day.'


        Jordan sat up on the hard seat beside Rom, the driver. He felt sorry for the Gens, three females and a male who were travelling inside the cage on the back of the cart.

The tracks they were now travelling on could never be dignified by calling them roads, for they were not. Potholes and ruts abounded, and even sitting so far above the ground Jordan still felt the banging and jarring through every bone and muscle in his slim body.

How the Gens were now faring in their cage he dreaded to think. Especially since in the beginning he had zlinned them, only to stop doing so straight away when a wave of fear and discomfort had washed over him, almost choking him in its intensity.

Once they were under way Rom had quickly informed him that apart from watering the horses, feeding the Gens, and changing horses at various points along their route; he had no intention of stopping for any length of time anywhere.
After a while Jordan struck up a conversation with the tired looking old driver and soon saw another side of life on this strange and unhappy planet. Then taking care not to raise suspicion in the elderly Sime, he brought the conversation around to Genfarms and the Farris family in particular – where his interest really lay.

'You ever meet Mary Farris?' The old man asked as he flicked his long whip over the head of the lead horses that appeared to Jordan to be larger than the Shires back on Earth.

'No. But like I said before, I'm not a legitimate member of the family,'

        Rom gave a bark of derisive laughter, 'How many of them are?' He demanded before he went on. 'Mary Farris is the Mother, and believe me when I say that she's in complete charge of the whole family. They daren't do much without her say so. A real old termagant she is, especially since her husband Cole died. She was bad enough before that, mind. Cole held her back a bit, but now?' He shook his white hair. 'The oldest son, Ryan, runs the main Genfarm near Preston, while Dermott's in charge at Banks Farm where they grow most of the food and only keep half the number of Gens.'

        'They only have the two farms then?' Jordan asked casually.

        'No shen it, there's several others scattered around the territory. But I ain't ever been to none of them.'

        'Ryan and Dermott, are they married?'

        'Ryan isn't. Mind you, he was a real late changeover. In fact, everyone began to think he might end up establishing.' Rom informed him sourly. 'But Dermott on the other hand – he's on his second wife. Farris women always seem to die young, usually through birthing. Bad luck's always been around in that family.' He spit over the side of the cart as though to emphasize his words.

        Jordan sat in silence for a few minutes. He was not surprised to hear that the Farris women on this world often died in childbirth. Until more recent times when new drugs and techniques had been discovered, it had also been a problem with his family.

        'How old is Ryan?' He asked conversationally.

        'Three months past changeover. I remember, because I was at the farm at the time. I've never seen old Mary look so shenning relieved,' and he laughed at the memory.

        'How many other Farrises live with their Mother?' Jordan asked finally.

        'Let's see…' the old man began to count using his fingers and then his tentacles. 'Including the kids – I make it fifteen – not that I envy any of them.'

        'Why not?' Jordan was fascinated.

        'Well if any one puts so much as a tentacle wrong, old Mary has them fastened up in one of the cages they keep the Gens in. She keeps them there till they're going crazy with need. It ain't natural for a woman to act like that. Not with her own kith and kin, it ain't.'
        'No it isn't,' Jordan agreed. 'Does anyone know why she treats them in that manner? There must be a reason.'

        'Well I did hear tell a story, years ago now. They said it was because of something that happened before she took up with Cole who was her third cousin.' He scratched his long white hair and then continued musingly. 'I heard she took a fancy to a Gen, big strong stud he was by all accounts…in a Gen way I mean.

'Anyhow, you can imagine what her father thought about that – his daughter, a good Sime girl, and a Gen! Beat three kinds of shen out of her he did. After that he kept her fastened up till she was almost into attrition, then pushed the Gen in with her and watched her kill him. Apparently she never forgave him, even when he was dying she wouldn't make her peace with him.'

He spat down onto the ground again as he went on. 'Anyway, folk say she hates all Simes now, even herself – and that's why she carries on like she does. Mind you, how much of that is true?' He shrugged his narrow shoulders expressively.

        Jordan decided to reserve judgment until he had actually met the terrifying old matriarch.

        'So what can you tell me about the Reynolds family? I understand we'll be calling on them on the way to the Farris place.'

        'Not much. But I've heard tell that there's some connection between them and the Farrises, way back when of course. Got a couple of really pretty girls they have. Looking for husbands or so I hear. If you're interested.' He cocked his head and zlinned Jordan as he spoke.

        'No. I…er..I have a girl back home.' He improvised quickly. The last thing he wanted at this moment in time was to become embroiled with a husband-seeking father!

        'Pity. There's plenty of money in the family. Anyway, you'll meet them yourself. We'll be calling on them first to pick up a Gen they're sending up to the Farris place. I understand Ryan wants him for breeding.'

        Jordan shuddered as he wondered unhappily what exactly he was letting himself in for. He could only hope that he would find Logram without too much trouble, and would be able to talk him into returning with him to Earth. If not, well he would just have to face that problem when he came to it.'

        Of course since he and Laurie had arrived on the planet, he had been pushing one frightening thought to the very back of his mind. What if Logram had not brought a Gen with him? Surely he would not have been so foolhardy as to come here unprepared? But if he hadn't brought a Gen, then there was always the possibility… No. He could not, and would not, contemplate his own cousin – who was also a Farris Channel – becoming junct.

Suddenly he felt the beginnings of a tension headache coming on. Quickly he straightened his shoulders and rubbed the nape of his neck with his tentacles.

        'We'll be stopping shortly to change the horses for the last time,' Rom informed him, having zlinned Jordan's obvious discomfort, but not knowing the cause.

        'What about the Gens?'

        'We'll water them and give them some bread and a few figs. Might not be enough for all of them. They'll just have to fight over it.' He muttered briefly as he pulled on the reins and turned the heavy cart into a large yard fronting onto an old homestead.

        As he had done on the last two occasions, Jordan fetched fresh water for the Gens and passed it through the bars of the cage. Rom could not be prevailed upon to open the door to let them stretch their legs, even though the four Gens were all shackled and could not have run very far.

        The only means of relieving themselves at their disposal were two large buckets with lids, hanging at one end of the cage within their reach. It was without doubt the final indignity Jordan thought, as he watched Rom push the meagre amount of food through the bars to drop onto the dirty floor.

The females, obviously too exhausted, remained seated, looking totally dejected, while the male picked up the bread and figs and divided it equally between the three women before going to sit down again. Jordan turned to see if the old renSime had noticed what the male Gen had done, but he was talking to a thin middle aged female who was quite obviously flirting with him. He smiled grimly there really was no accounting for taste he thought wryly.

Then with a deep sigh of resignation because as far as the Gens were concerned he dare not interfere. He climbed back onto his perch and waited for Rom to join him.

        Thankfully the last stretch of their journey was completed surprisingly quickly. When they finally pulled into the gates that lead to the Reynolds Farm the Sun was low in the sky as evening approached.

        Stopping the cart outside the wooden door at the front of the large old house, Rom jumped down and disappeared around the side. Moments later he returned, accompanied by a middle-aged man who he introduced as N'vet Reynolds.

        'Farris did you say? Jordan Farris? Can't say I've ever heard of you, son.' Reynolds said as he zlinned the younger man.

Rom climbed back up onto the cart. 'I'll just load up the Gen and come back for N'vet Farris,' he called down.

        'He'll be staying for a meal. No… no, my wife insists.' He said quickly as Jordan tried to refuse the offer. 'Come back in an hour, Rom,' he ordered with authority, and then led the way around to the side of the house where his family were sitting around a large table.

        Jordan was introduced to his wife, Margo, who was very close to need, and their two twin daughters. Both girls had obviously gone through changeover in the last few months. It was the twins that fascinated Jordan. Not the fact that they were Sime and very pretty, but simply because they were, in fact, twins. The phenomenon was unusual enough to grab his interest because twins – or indeed multiple births of any description were still unusual as far as a Sime mother was concerned. There were a number of documented cases on Earth in recent times, but few of them, as far as he could recall, had been live births.

        During the course of the meal that Margo Reynolds and her daughters served, Jordan had been quizzed by their father as to how he was related to the Farrises – and where he had been living before he arrived here.

        Quickly Jordan trotted out the story that he had thought up to cover his sudden appearance on this planet. Thankfully everyone seemed to accept his word without question. He was still relieved when he zlinned the cart rumble up to the front of the house. Having said his goodbyes, he went to take his place once more beside the old renSime.

        'What did you think of the Reynolds family?' Rom asked curiously as they set out on the remainder of their journey.

        'Nice people. I was surprised by the twins.' He admitted honestly.

        'Unusual, ain't it? All three of them nearly died or so I heard tell. Mary Farris helped with the birthing,' Rom paused and then asked suddenly, 'What part of the country did you say you come from?'

        The Channel zlinned the old man quickly but could find no suspicion in his nager, so he said, 'a long long way from here. Up North.' Then crossed his tentacles as he hoped that the old man would not question him further; for truthfully he had no idea at all of the names of cities or towns anywhere else on this planet.

        'Up North you say? Would that be near the Lakes? Bowton or somewhere like that?'

        'Bowton it is. How did you guess,' Jordan grasped quickly at the lifeline.

        'Your accent. I ain't never heard another like it. Not around here.' Rom said triumphantly.

        Jordan laughed with relief. And then for the rest of the short journey he steered the conversation onto far safer ground.

        Unlike the Reynolds place, when they finally arrived at the Farris Farm it was to find the place a hive of activity. The Sime workers were busy feeding the Gens with the last meal of the day, before fastening them into sheds for the night.

        Rom dropped him off at the main house and having said his goodbyes, he disappeared in the direction of a separate shed to one side of the field that he had told Jordan earlier was an isolation shed, where new Gens, even this one from Matt Reynolds, were kept until they were examined and cleared for integration with the main herd.

        Jordan walked up the steps to the open front door and spoke to one of the renSime who obviously worked in the house. The woman disappeared back inside. Several minutes later she came out and asked him to follow her. She led him to a large room, told him that someone would be with him soon, and then left him there to twiddle his tentacles.

        Jordan guessed that probably even the younger members of the family would be busy fastening down the Gen stock for the night. Stock!? Shen it! He was talking about Gens here – Gens who were people, not stock! How quickly even he began to accept how the Gens and Simes lived on this planet.

        'I understand you call yourself Jordan Farris. I've never heard of you, young man.' The imperious voice made Jordan jump with surprise. Surprise because no one had ever approached him like that without him zlinning their approach. The old matriarch – and he had little doubt that it was she – was very good indeed. Zlinning her discreetly he saw she was probably a First like himself, though totally undisciplined and junct. Being junct, he had little doubt but that she and all Channels on this planet would be subject to all sorts of illnesses and…his musing came to an abrupt end as he realised she was waiting for his answer.

        'I was born up North, and now live at Bowton near the Lakes.'

        'I don't doubt it with that accent. So tell me, what are you here for? And I have to tell you it isn't the first time someone has come here smelling money and trying to pass themselves off as a Farris.' She snorted loudly with open derision. Then stared at him for several seconds before she admitted, 'At least you have the Farris look about you.'

        Jordan zlinned the approach of two angry males – and was not surprised when the door burst open and two Simes entered the room without ceremony.

        'What's going on Mother?' The first one demanded as they both stood and zlinned Jordan angrily.

        This lorsh claims to be related to us.' She snapped back rudely. 'And kindly do not come into my presence smelling of Gens and horses. How many times do I have to tell you to shower first?'

        'Sorry, Mother. But the whole place is buzzing with talk. Apparently the Overseer at the castle told Rom to bring him here.' The other Sime informed her, still glaring at Jordan.

        'Since you are now here, I suggest you both sit and remain silent while I talk to him and try to sort this out.' She ordered brusquely, before turning back to Jordan.

        'Do you have proof of your claim?' She demanded harshly.

        'No. Save that on his deathbed my father informed me that he was not, in fact, my father. Apparently my mother, who is also dead, was already pregnant with me when they first met.'

        For a few moments the old woman studied him closely and then fired questions at him, including asking his mother's name, his age and his date of birth.

        Jordan gave her his own mother's name together with his own date of birth and age. At least he wouldn't be caught out later he thought, if he was questioned again. Meanwhile, he worked very hard at keeping any hint that he might not be telling the whole truth out of his nager.

        'It's all lies!' The eldest of the two young men stated emphatically.

        'Perhaps, but then again...' The older woman zlinned him deeply, and then walked around him studying him closely as she asked, 'Was your mother good looking?'

        Caught by surprise at the unusual question, Jordan smiled as he said 'I thought so. But then, all little boys think their mother is beautiful, do they not?'

        'Mine don't!' She said with a laugh that was almost a snarl.

        Jordan almost said that he was sorry to hear that, but bit the words back as he guessed she would not be pleased with his commiserations.

        Walking over to a bookcase that stood against one wall, and appeared to house a large number of old ledgers, she pulled one of them out, and carrying it to the desk opened it up. For several minutes in total silence she turned the pages, and then stabbed a tentacle down on one of the entries.

        After a moment or two she glanced at her two sons before she said. 'Just as I thought. Your father was in Carleton almost a year before he was born. And to get there, he had to go through Bowton.' She slammed the ledger shut and stalked over to the window to stare out sightlessly as she said calmly. 'It would seem you are my husband's bastard son. It would also seem that you are his legal heir, since you are older than either of them,' and she flicked a tentacle almost disdainfully towards the other two Simes.

        'Mother!' Her two legitimate sons jumped to their feet. 'Surely you aren't going to admit his claim?' They demanded almost in chorus.

        'He appears to have a lawful claim.' Mary Farris said before she went on. 'Everyone knows what your Father was like. Show him a pretty face and he began panting just like a Gen!'

        'But Father left the two main Farms to us. You know he did.' Dermott almost whined.

        'Shut up and sit down, both of you!' Their mother screamed the order at them as she zlinned Jordan and then asked, 'Did you come here to claim their inheritance?'

        'No. I did not. In fact I don't want anything from any of you. Nothing that is, except a few days lodging. I shall then be on my way and I can guarantee that you will never see me again.' Jordan assured the three Sime allowing them to zlin the sincerity of his words in his nager.

        'You're telling the truth,' the old woman stated in surprise, 'So why did you come here if you don't want anything from us?'

        'I wanted to see my father and to meet all of you, my family. But since I have recently learned that he's dead…' Jordan shrugged his shoulders as he went on. 'I am also looking for my cousin. My mother's sister's child. He left home a few years ago and has not kept in touch with us. I should like to find him. Apart from that it has been a long and tiring journey for me. It will be just as long going back. I therefore wish to rest for a while before I undertake the return journey. That is all.'

        'And your cousin's name is…?' Mary Farris demanded.


        'I've never heard the name,' she glanced across at her two sons, who both shook their heads.

        'Do you mind if I ask your workers? Someone may have heard something.' Jordan suggested.

        'Ask who you like,' the matriarch said dismissively and then asked, 'Am I to take it, that if I get the necessary papers drawn up, you would be prepared to sign a disclaimer as far as all the Farris properties are concerned?'

        'Of course,' he paused and glanced at the two men who sat glowering at him from the other side of the room. 'Perhaps you could introduce my…brothers?'

        'You're no brother of mine,' the younger one asserted angrily.

        'Shut up!' Their Mother almost snarled as she snapped, 'Be grateful he isn't interested in your inheritance.' Then turning to Jordan she pointed at the older Sime and said, 'This is my eldest son, Ryan, and the hot headed one is Dermott.'

        Jordan thought they were both hot headed nevertheless he nodded at them politely, but received no response from either.
        'You'll meet the rest of the family at dinner.'

        'I've already eaten. The Reynolds' were kind enough to…' The Channel began, only to be rudely interrupted as Mary Farris stated: 'We dine at 8.00. You will be there.' She stared him down till Jordan reluctantly nodded his head in agreement. The last thing he wanted was to upset the woman since he had little doubt but that she could make life even more uncomfortable for him if she chose, than her sons were already doing.

        She turned to sweep out of the room but was stopped by Jordan as he said quickly, 'I will apologise in advance madam, for I have nothing presentable to wear.'

        Without turning her head she said imperiously, 'Ryan, he's about your size. See he is suitably attired.'

        'But Mother!'

        'Just do it Ryan!' She ordered coldly and left the room.

        For a few moments there was an uncomfortable silence as the three men both zlinned and looked at each other.

        'Come with me.' Ryan said almost imperiously to Jordan as he stood up.

        'You're not really going to give him your clothes, are you?' His younger brother demanded.

        'Of course I am. You saw the mood she was in – would you want to cross her?'

        Dermott shook his head slowly, 'No. I guess not.' He said with obvious chagrin.

        'Relax. I'll be back in no time. We'll talk then.' Ryan said ominously, as he led Jordan away and up to his own suite of rooms in silence.

        'Han!' He called as they entered the bedroom. Moments later a tall skinny Sime entered the room, bowing obsequiously as he did so. 'This is my Mother's guest. He has nothing suitable to wear for dinner. Fix him up from my wardrobe.' Ryan ordered brusquely.

         'Yes N'vet,' and as the other Channel left the room, the renSime turned to look at Jordan critically before he opened one of the wall to wall wardrobes and began to riffle through the clothes hanging there. 'Have you a preference as to colour or style N'vet?' He asked softly.

        'Not really. Just as long as it fits.' Jordan said at once.

        'Perhaps you'd like to try this one, or this?'

        Jordan determined not to be late for dinner that night. Even as he entered the room, he found that apart from Mary Farris, whose seat at the head of the table was empty, he was the last to arrive. To his discomfort the buzz of conversation died away as the family all turned to both study and zlin him.

        He returned their looks with one of his own until one of the servants came over and escorted him to a vacant seat beside the matriarch's chair.

        No sooner had Jordan sat down than the doors opened again and Mary Farris swept in like a battleship. She was dressed elegantly in a long dark blue velvet dress while several rows of pearls adorned both her neck and her upswept silver hair.

        She ignored everyone until after the first course – which consisted of a spoonful of creamy mushroom soup at the bottom of a deep bowl was served – then she suddenly turned to Jordan and asked why he was not eating.

        'As I told you before madam, I already ate at the Reynolds place on the way here.' Jordan reminded her quietly, 'But you insisted I be here.'
        Several of the people sitting around the table gasped at his sheer audacity. Apparently no one on the farm, including the family, dared to speak to Mary Farris in that manner.

        For a few moments the matriarch zlinned him and then turned her attention back to her family as she said, 'Risa, I believe I told you last week not to wear that awful green dress. It doesn't suit you. Get rid of it!'

        'But Mother…' The younger woman leaned forward in her chair obviously prepared to argue the point. Dermott placed a tentacle on his wife's arm and she immediately subsided back into her seat, and nodded her blonde head in her mother-in-law's direction.

        'Dermott, have you had a chance to look at the Gen that the Reynolds' have sent over?' She asked, as the soup bowls were cleared away.
        'Yes, Mother. I think he'll do.'

        'Well I don't.' Ryan broke in.

        'And what's wrong with him?' Dermott asked, obviously annoyed that his judgment was being called into question by his older brother. 'He's healthy, tall, well muscled. Not a blemish on his body and extremely spirited!'

        'Exactly, brother. You've just put your finger on his main fault. He's too spirited by far, if you ask me. Did you see the defiant way he stood and looked me straight in the eyes? Remember, father always said: “never trust a Gen who'll meet your eyes like that.”'

        'We're trying to breed Gens with a lot more bite to their nagers. Or have you forgotten that, Ryan?' The younger Sime demanded. 'We've already got more than enough passive ones as it is.'

        'Dermott is quite right, Ryan.' The matriarch said, breaking into the discussion. 'The wild Gens the military are catching now are swamping the market at the auctions. If we expect to compete with them using our homegrown Gens, then we've got to give them more of an edge. If that means taking a chance with Gens like him, then so be it.'

        'I still don't like it, Mother. It might prove extremely dangerous.'

        'Nonsense,' his mother snapped back. 'Just remember, the amount of money that's at stake here. Some of the bidders at the auctions are the wealthiest in the land. And if we want a slice of that, then we have to be prepared to take chances. Besides, we're talking long term here.'

        'And in the meantime Dermott, why don't we go and hunt down some of the savages ourselves and put them in the auctions?' A young renSime at the bottom of the table called out.

        'Not a bad idea, Vim. What do you think, Mother?'

        'I will consider it and let you know.' She turned to glance at their guest as she asked, 'And how are the Gen markets doing up North?'

        'Much the same as here I believe,' Jordan said at once, mentally crossing his tentacles as he spoke.

        She nodded her head as she murmured, 'Yes, everyone is beginning to feel the pinch. Can you spare a few hours of your time tomorrow?'

        Jordan hid his surprise as he said, 'I don't see why not. Is there something specific that you'd like me to do?'

        'I zlin you are quite sensitive Jordan; perhaps almost as sensitive as me.'

        'Oh, I don't know about…'

        'No false modesty, please. All I am asking you to do is help Ryan to sort through the welps and see if they are healthy or any of them are in changeover. We do it once a week. I usually assist him, but I shall not be here tomorrow.'

        'Where are you going, Mother?'

        'None of your business, Dermott. Be silent.' She said at once.

        'Surely Dermott can help his brother?' Jordan asked hopefully, as he added 'I don't want to interfere.'

        'No he can't! You must have noticed that he's not as sensitive as Ryan.'

        Jordan nodded reluctantly. Yes he had noticed, and without lateral contact he thought that Dermott was probably a Second; so he said, 'As long as it's not going to cause any trouble in the family, then I shall be pleased to help.'

        Glancing down the table at Dermott, Jordan saw that the Sime was squirming in his chair as he glowered across at his mother. It was evident, even without zlinning, that there was little love lost between mother and son.

        Seeing she had got her way, Mary Farris nodded her head imperiously in Jordan's direction before she turned back to the rest of her large family and ignored him for the rest of the meal, as she set about upsetting and systematically falling out with every member of her extended family.


        By noon on the second day, the Hollow Mountains were looming high above them as they entered the foothills. Suddenly, Vidal called a halt, and the two Gens sank wearily to the ground.

        'I could sleep the clock around,' Jason admitted with a yawn.

        'Me, too. Mind you, I wish there was a pool nearby. I could do with soaking my feet. I've already got more than a few blisters,' Laurie sighed as he pulled off his shoes.

        'I'll take a look at them later. Blisters can turn nasty if they aren't taken care of.' The Channel said zlinning the two Gens deeply.

        'Thanks. In the meantime, what can I do to help?' Laurie asked as he made to stand up.

        'Just stay where you are. You, too, Jason. Arik and I can manage can't we?' And he smiled across at the young renSime who glowered back at him.

        'I ain't running around after no Gens,' he almost snarled.

        'I'm not asking you to,' Vidal said at once. 'I thought you might tend to the horses.'

        Less than an hour later the four men sat around a small fire. The Gens were eating the meagre fare they had brought with them, while the Simes held mugs of hot herbal tea in their tentacles.

Arik had found the herbs growing nearby and had shown Vidal how to infuse them by crushing the leaves before adding the hot water. They had all agreed that while it was not as good as trin tea, it was a good enough substitute.

        'We've made excellent progress,' Vidal said with satisfaction.

        'Yes but we've got to get over the mountains tomorrow,' Jason reminded him.

        'At dawn Arik and I will climb up onto that outcrop of rock over there and see if we can zlin any passes through the mountains. There have to be some around here somewhere. After all, wagons go this way all the time,' he pointed out logically.

        The next morning Jason awoke to find the two Simes huddled close to the small fire and talking softly.

        'Good morning,' he said quietly, trying not to wake Laurie as he joined them beside the fire. 'Any luck finding a way through?'

        'I zlinned two passes over in that direction, but they are both at least ten miles away. I'd rather not go that far out of our way if we can avoid it. But young Arik here has zlinned a narrow trail just over there. I think it's probably been used in the past by miners. We could give it a try.' Vidal suggested as he passed Jason a mug of hot herb tea.

        'Mules might just make it up there,' Jason conceded glancing up at the almost sheer rockface. 'But what about the horses? Are they going to prove as agile as mules?'

        'I haven't got a clue,' the Channel admitted at once and then said, 'we can but try, Arik the Great here seems to think we stand a good chance of making it. Don't you, boy?'

        The renSime nodded his head in Vidal's direction, ignoring the Gen.

        'I think we'll have to lead the horses. Where the going is easy you and Laurie can ride. When it gets tough – and I have no doubt that it will – then we'll all have to walk.'

'Have you perhaps forgotten that Laurie and I are still recovering from yesterday's trek?' Jason reminded him as he drained the last of the tea.

Vidal merely grinned at him as he said, 'You'll both make it I'm sure,' and then walked across to wake Laurie and tell him of their plan.

        The first hour or so the going was not too bad as they made their way through the foothills in the direction of the trail that the Sime had zlinned. Vidal had removed their shackles and the rope from their wrists before they set out, but had left the collars and chains on them. He had also insisted that the Gens rode while they walked – much to Arik's obvious annoyance.

        By midday the terrain had changed and the going was a lot harder. Later still and the track narrowed down between walls of sheer rock on either side of them. At first it did not look too bad, but as they made their way higher and higher the rock wall on one side or the other would suddenly disappear to reveal a sheer fall of several hundred feet on that side.

        Realising he could ride no further, Jason had tried not to look down as he slid off the mare's back and walked behind holding her tail, while Vidal walked in front leading her.

        On these occasions Laurie was hidden from his view behind Arik and Meg, but he knew that he, too, was walking.

        Reaching a small ledge where they could all huddle together, Vidal zlinned their way ahead and then finally said, 'There's a plateau a mile or so up ahead. We must try and reach it before nightfall. Of course, Arik and I can zlin using the two of you, but it means that both you, and the horses, will be walking blind. So take care.'

        Jason laughed briefly as he observed cryptically, 'There's one consolation. When it gets really dark we won't see how far we have to fall.'

        Laurie chuckled, but neither Sime seemed to think it was the least bit funny.

        The Gens having caught their breath, they all set out once more.
        Just before they reached the plateau they came to a rather treacherous part of the trail. Jason heard Vidal call, 'Watch out ahead. There's a wash out. The track has fallen away for a distance of perhaps ten feet or so. Careful where you place your feet or you could slide down,' before he disappeared from sight around the rockface.

        Jason turned his head, and raising his voice, repeated Vidal's warning to Arik – trusting that Laurie would also hear him.

        Jason held his breath as he slowly began to traverse the dangerous part of the track, only breathing out when he realised that his feet were once more on solid rock.

        Suddenly just as Arik began to cross the rockslide, Jason heard the rattle of several small stones as they cascaded down the side of the mountain. Simes, of course, were noted for their agility. Even the most adept could not foresee some of the dirty tricks that Mother Nature chose to play on all hapless travellers. Looking back over his shoulder, Jason – to his horror – saw young Arik disappear almost in slow motion, or so it seemed to him, down the side of the mountain.

Thankfully the Sime had let go of the mare's head or he might have taken her down, too, the small rocks and shingle being so loose.

        'Arik! Arik where are you?

        'Jason, what's going on?' Laurie called from behind the mare.

        'Arik's gone over.'

        'What did you say? What's happening Jason?' Vidal asked from up in front, frustration in his voice because he was unable to zlin around the rockface. Although he was still holding the mare's head, he did not dare to try and back the horse up. Jason was just explaining to the Channel what had happened when another sound reached him and he leaned forward to look down into the darkness below.

        'Is that you? Are you down there, Arik?'

        'I'm on a ledge about six feet below you.' The renSime called out – fear evident in his voice. 'It's only a few inches wide. I'm holding on with my tentacles, but I can zlin that my weight is going to break it off before long and I'll go right on down.'

        'Keep calm.' Jason yelled, although he knew that with the treacherous track under his feet and a horse on each side of him, neither Laurie nor Vidal could help him.

        Lying down, Jason moved carefully forward till he was peering over the edge, thankful that he could not see how far he would drop if his body started a small avalanche on the loose rocks. Moving back, he got onto his knees and untwined the long chain from around his neck. Then lying down once more he called down to the renSime. 'I'm going to drop the chain on my collar, grab hold of it and I'll try and pull you up.'

Then he dropped the chain and braced himself for the tug he would feel when the boy caught hold of it. Thankfully, the young Sime was skinny and probably weighed next to nothing he thought hopefully, which meant he should have no great difficulty in pulling him up.

        Jason swore under his breath as the chain suddenly went taut and the side of his face was forced down onto the loose shingle and rock. Taking a deep breath he was preparing himself to try and pull the Sime up when he suddenly found young Arik climbing over his body, and immediately the collar around his neck thankfully went loose again. Arik had obviously swarmed his way up the chain like a monkey.

Jason gasped as he got onto his knees and moved as close to the mountain face as possible before he scrambled to his feet; finding that he was trembling from head to foot.
        Vidal still unable to zlin what was happening back on the trail behind him called out, 'Is everyone okay back there?'

        'Yes.' His partner yelled back.

        Then grabbing Peg's tail once again he called out, 'Move it along, Vidal.'

        A few minutes later the four men and two horses emerged onto the plateau. Jason collapsed to his knees, still shaking with reaction.

        Vidal and Laurie rushed to his side and knelt down beside him. 'What exactly happened back there?' Laurie asked as the Channel tended to his partner. Then they both listened carefully as Arik explained.

        'So, Jason saved your life.' Vidal said bluntly.

        Arik reluctantly nodded his head.

        'Well the least you can do is to thank him.' Laurie stated.

        They spent an unpleasant night on the mountain exposed as they were to the elements. The two Simes were, of course, able to adjust their body heat to suit the unfriendly conditions. Neither Laurie nor Jason had any such aid at their disposal. And after an hour of them both shivering as they tried to get to sleep, Vidal had insisted that Arik and he lie down with the Gens between them and share their body heat. As the Channel had expected, Laurie accepted his help in getting to sleep, whilst Jason did not, although he watched the procedure intently.

        The next morning they had set out once again just as the Sun was rising. Thankfully the trail leading down was much easier to traverse; and to everyone's relief they finally emerged onto the plains far below at just after two in the afternoon. Vidal immediately insisted that the Gens and the horses rest for the remainder of the day while he kept watch, and Arik went to forage for food.

        The Sime returned just before sunset carrying an armful of what looked like greyish potatoes. Once they had baked them in their jackets in the embers of the small campfire, they found that they tasted like potatoes, too.

        'I never thought a simple thing like a potato could taste so good,' Laurie admitted –helping himself to another one as he said, 'I just wish we had some butter and cheese to go with them.'

        'You know we've been lucky so far. It hasn't rained yet. But according to young Arik, this is the season for rain, so we've got to expect it soon.' Vidal informed them.

Laurie smiled, 'My dad always told me: “Rain won't hurt you, it doesn't penetrate the skin”.'
        'It's not the rain Laurence, it's the coughs and colds that come along with it,' Vidal pointed out, 'And we don't have any money to pay for either shelter or medicines for either of you.'

        'Well at least you and Arik will be okay,' the Gen observed, 'And don't call me Laurence.'

        'Of course, my apologies,' the Channel murmured contritely.

        'There's a lot of rich pickings around these parts.' Arik suddenly said.

        'I beg your pardon?' Vidal looked across at him, his eyebrows raised.

        'You said you want money to look after them. Well I can show you how to get it.'

        'You mean, steal it?'

        'Why not? Or aren't they important to you?'

        'It's not a matter of…important.' Vidal stressed, 'it's a matter of simple ethics and morals.'

        'Oh, yeah,' the boy sneered, 'you going to tell them about ethics and morals when you're burying them in the ground?'

        Vidal sighed, Out of the mouths of babes. The problem was, of course, as he had found so often in the past, each time you broke the law it became easier next time. For a while he sat in silence as he considered what he could do to finance this expedition.

        Arik suddenly stood up and began to remove his tunic to reveal his pale skinny body. 'What are you doing?' Vidal asked in surprise as both Gens remained silent.

        The young Sime ignored him as he searched along the seam of the tunic and then finding what he was looking for unfastened it and held it out to Vidal. 'Here, take it,' Arik instructed as he pulled the tunic on again.

        'I zlinned that you had a metal object on your person back at the castle. I thought that it was a keepsake from a member of your family – or perhaps a girlfriend,' Vidal said, examining it closely as he spoke, 'it appears to be a very expensive brooch. You know you could have used this to buy your freedom from the castle.'

'Yeah, and I would have done that, too. As a last resort.' The Sime admitted.

'So where did you get it?' The Channel demanded.

        'None of your shenning business,' the boy said at once. 'I had it hidden in the coat and had to transfer it to the tunic when I threw the coat away. The thing is… you can get quite a bit for it. Well, do you want it or not?'

        'Yes, of course I do.' He paused for a moment and then said softly, 'so where is the best place to sell it?'

        'Can you zlin that small town a few miles up ahead?'

        'Of course.'

        'Well we might find a place there where we can sell it.' He grinned for the first time as he said, 'if I take it in to sell they might call the military, but you look more…presentable somehow… Like someone who's just down on their luck. Not like me.'

        'Oh, you don't look too bad, Arik.' Laurie said quietly to raise the boy's confidence. 'Perhaps you're just too young. When you're older you'll look a lot different.'

        The lad laughed, 'Maybe.'

        Laurie glanced across at his fellow Gen a smile touching his lips; for Arik the Great had actually acknowledged him.
        Early the next morning with Vidal and Arik on horseback and leading the two Gens by their chains they all entered the small town of Brownsville. There was a small row of shops along one side of the narrow high street, with a school and meeting hall on the other. It took only a few minutes to decide which shop Vidal should enter to try and sell the brooch.

        Several shoppers walked or rode passed Arik and the two Gens, zlinning the three strangers with open curiosity. The Gens gave a sigh of relief as Vidal suddenly emerged carrying a small money pouch.

        'How much did you get?' Arik demanded as he watched Vidal spring lightly onto Peg's back and accept Jason's lead chain from him.

        'Two hundred groats,' Vidal said with a grin.

        'Is that a lot?' Laurie asked.

        'I really have no idea,' and he turned to look at Arik his eyebrows raised in query.

        No longer surprised at the ignorance of his fellow travellers the boy said, 'It'll pay for us to stay two or three nights at a post house if it starts to rain, and buy some bread, and have a few groats left over if we're lucky.'

        The next day Arik went and bought two large loaves of bread together with a bag of what looked like apples, before they set out once more. While he was buying the food he had taken the opportunity to find out from the sales assistant where the ale houses were situated between there and Preston.

Later that day they were more than half way to Preston when it did indeed begin to rain; starting first with a few drops until half an hour later it was pouring down. Stopping only to allow the two Gens to climb up onto the mares' backs they quickly set out in the direction of the nearest hostelry. Arriving there, they saw a board hanging outside saying that it had vacant rooms.

        Entering the two storey building all four men were deafened by the rain beating down on the metal roof. The landlord informed them that he had one twin bedded room available. Vidal quickly booked it before he led the way along the corridor. On the way to the stairs, they passed a large room where he and Arik zlinned a number of Simes were drinking and talking, while a few others were eating.
        If they thought the rain was loud downstairs, up here under the eaves it was deafening. The four men looked around the room they had been allocated. It was dirty. Vidal, for one, doubted that the bedding had been changed since the last occupants had left. Still it was cheap, and at least the Gens were under cover and out of the now incessant rain he thought grimly.

        Walking over to where two large jugs of water stood on an old wooden cupboard, he zlinned a thick layer of dust covering everything including the water.

Suddenly he turned quickly as he felt a wave of surprise come from the two Gens. 'What's wrong?' He demanded expecting trouble, until he saw they were both staring at the cage in the corner of the room.

        'I'm sorry – I should have warned you.'

        'You knew about this?' Jason asked as the two Gens stared at the Channel.

        'Only from history books.' Vidal admitted quickly, 'It was once a common practice on Earth to either have shackles or a cage in the room to accommodate a Gen.'

'I'm glad we don't have that practice any longer,' Laurie said with a grin as he looked at his fellow Gen's face. 'Lighten up. It could be a lot worse,' he advised.
        'In what way exactly?' Jason demanded as he sat down in the one chair that the room possessed, and listened with trepidation as the wood protested at the unexpected weight.

        'We could actually be inside there,' Laurie reminded him as he pointed at the cage, and then noticed that Arik was looking at all of them with a peculiar expression on his face.

        'What's all that you're saying…about Earth and history books?' He suddenly demanded of Vidal. 'What does “Earth” mean, exactly? What is it?'

        'It...er..it's an island. It's where we all came from, originally that is. Before we came here,' the Channel improvised quickly.

        'Yes. Simes and Gens, we live together…on the island.' Laurie said trying to be helpful – but not really succeeding.

        'Yeah, and I suppose I ain't got no tentacles either! Look, I may be ignorant as far as schooling is concerned, but I ain't stupid. I don't know where you all came from exactly, but it ain't no island!' He said facing them defiantly with his hands on his hips, a pugnacious look on his young face.

        'Calm down, Arik.' Vidal said earnestly as he went to sit on the edge of one of the two beds. 'We haven't lied to you, not really, we don't come from around here you know that. But we do come from a place, not exactly on this planet.'

        'What does that mean? “Not on this planet”?'

        'It means we came here by…ship,' Jason said.

        'I saw a drawing of a ship once. The Sime that showed me said they use huge sheets to catch the wind.' Arik said and Vidal zlinned some of the tension draining out of the young Sime as he went on. 'I knew someone once who went to see it, the sea that is. Mind you I don't know if he ever made it. I heard tell it's hundreds of miles from here.'

        'Yes it is.' Vidal agreed quickly, 'and we come from way over the other side of the sea.'

        'You crossed all that water?' He asked awe in his voice.

         Laurie nodded, tongue in cheek, 'Yes we did.' He said, aware that Vidal was bluring the ambient to hide his obvious lie.

        'So what did you come here for?'

        'Like I told you before – we're looking for Logram.'

        'Has he got something you want? Or did he run off with something?' Arik enquired at once, 'No one travels this far to find someone unless it's worth their while.'

        'Yes, he ran off with a family heirloom.' Vidal informed him, then both seeing and zlinning the boy's obvious confusion he clarified quickly, 'He took something of great value, to my family that is, not to anyone else.'

        Arik nodded his head and Vidal zlinned no subterfuge in the Sime as he said, 'I suppose that does explain it, but…'

        'Let's leave further talk till later;' Vidal said with a smile of relief. 'How many groats do you have left?' He shouted as the rain on the roof suddenly became even louder and drowned out his voice.

        'A hundred and forty,' Arik yelled back, repeating it twice.

        'Good,' he turned to the two Gens. 'Eat some of the food while we're gone. Just don't eat all of it at once. Tomorrow is another day, remember. I also advise that both of you at least sit in the cage till we return, just in case someone bothers to zlin the room as they pass by. They would think it suspicious to find you walking around unshackled and unattended.'

        'And just what are you going downstairs for?' Jason asked at once.

        'Did you notice the large room on the left as we entered? Well I zlinned as we passed that some of the Simes in there were gambling. I thought young Arik and I might try our luck.'

        'It's been my experience that people only win, when they don't really care whether they lose.' Laurie told the room at large.

        Vidal grinned recklessly. 'Well let us hope that that old adage is wrong in this instance shall we?' Then he and Arik left the room locking the door behind them.


The next morning Jordan was up early and duly presented himself downstairs just as dawn was breaking. Ryan was already sitting at the table nursing a cup of herb tea, a scowl on his youthful face.

        After a moment or two the Sime glanced up at him and nodded towards the pot, 'It's still hot.'

        'Thank you.' Jordan poured out the light herbal tea before he asked curiously. 'Don't you have any trin?'
        'Trin? Can't say that I've ever heard of it,' he muttered and then fell silent again.

        'No of course not.' Jordan sat down opposite Ryan, thinking quietly.

He tended to forget that this planet was not Earth, and therefore he could not expect everything to be exactly the same. After all, if his hypothesis was correct, then Simes were not the first ones to come here. Indeed in the beginning it was the Gens who had fled here. They probably either did not bother to bring any seeds or plants with them, or did not have the time to do so.

In the beginning too, if he was not mistaken, the Gens would have ensured that a careful watch was kept on all their children, and as soon as any of them displayed signs of changeover then in all likelihood they would have been battered to death. Dreadful as it might seem viewed from today's modern world on Earth, when considered from the Gen's point of view on this planet, it really was the only option open to them.

Gradually, of course, Gen parents who probably loved all their children, would over the years have begun to help their Sime children to escape their fate at the hands of other Gens, and in so doing they would in another way have sealed their own ultimate fate.

In some respects it might also go a long way to explaining why they had managed to stave off Zelerod's doom for so long. After all, by ruthlessly keeping the Sime population down for maybe many, many, decades – or perhaps even longer than that – it must have allowed the Gen population to grow unrestricted.

Later something must have happened to turn the situation around. Something that reversed the dominance from Gens to Simes. Although from what he had been told by Angus and Fay, the Gens still had the superiority of numbers. But whereas the Simes lived in towns and cities and could organise themselves, the Gens were scattered across the countryside, hiding out and existing as best they could, forming only small bands here and there.

What had caused this ultimate shift from Gens to Simes he had no idea and neither he decided, did anyone else on this strange and troubled planet.

After all even on his own planet Earth no one, even today, knew exactly how Simes had suddenly appeared from amongst the ancients – or how Simes and Gens had – in the beginning – established their own territories. Neither did they know when the very first Channel had actually appeared amongst the Simes. For while Rimon Farris had perhaps been one of the first to realise that he was very different from other Simes, there must have been many many more who did not recognise the difference in themselves, or if they did, chose to ignore it. And as for the Householdings…

Jordan forced his mind back to the present. Interesting as these ruminations quite obviously were, now was not the time to consider them in depth. Picking up a tiny rice cake he forced himself to eat. It was surprising how easy it was to ignore food altogether when there were no Gens near by to whet his appetite.

        Ryan suddenly stood up and marched towards the door, 'You coming or not?' He asked brusquely, without looking across at him.

        Jordon got to his feet in silence, and followed the Sime who led him to a long single storey shed where he opened the door and stepped inside, with Jordan close on his heels.

The interior was laid out like a dormitory with wooden beds down one side. There was no bed linen or covers on the beds, just straw for them to lie on. Each had just enough space in between to allow a child to stand up beside his or her bed. Two female Simes had obviously just got the children out of bed and had begun to organise them into rows.

'We examine them first. Then they go into the shower and afterwards they eat.' Ryan informed him. 'You take that row there. I'll do these.'

All the children were surprisingly quiet and docile, each one, stepping forward with their arms held out in front of them when their turn came.

Jordan took each small set of hands gently and settled his tentacles against their skin as he zlinned for any sign of either ill health or changeover. He found none.

'They're surprisingly cooperative,' he said, glancing across at Ryan.

'We use Cobburite to calm them down. They'd be running around like crazy if we didn't.'

'You drug them?' The Channel couldn't hold the words back, although he did manage to keep the censure and the disapproval out of both his voice and nager.

'It's the best way. We'd never get anything done otherwise.' The Sime said briefly. 'We don't give anything to them till they leave the nursery and go to stage two. They go through five stages. This lot is stage four. Then when the Gens establish we put them on to the stronger stuff – Zenaga for preference, but as you probably know you have to be careful how you mix it.'

'Of course;' Jordan murmured, noticing that as he finished with each child they automatically walked in silence into the next room where he could zlin there was a row of communal showers.

'Is this the only dormitory?' The Channel asked; glad to see he was coming to the end of his row.

'Four more. Some of them are older than this lot. Some, a lot younger. We can get through the young ones much quicker because we only have to look for illness and not changeover. But altogether it shouldn't take us more than another hour to do them all.'

        Jordan gritted his teeth and worked as quickly as he could.

        'You and Rom called into the Reynolds place last night and picked up one of their best Gens,' he said and Jordan nodded his head. 'We've bought stud rights on him. We'll be coupling him later today. Mother said to tell you that you're welcome to come and watch.'

        Jordan ignored the offer, which he had no intention of taking up. He did ask, 'How do you get him to perform to order? I mean, I can't see that drugs given to pacify him are going to help matters in that area,' he said pointedly. Indeed the Channel had visions of Ryan or some other Sime beating the Gen into doing their bidding.

        Ryan laughed out loud with genuine mirth. 'You haven't been around many Genfarms have you? Some of the males are only too keen to cooperate.' Then without waiting for a response he went on. 'With the others we use a combination of local herbs it makes them very lively – and they can't get enough of the females then. The recipe has been in our family for generations. It's one of the reasons we're so far ahead of the field in Gen breeding.'

        Jordan felt sick. People should not use other people in such a manner. What was he doing on this world anyway? Was finding Logram worth putting himself through all this?

        Ryan suddenly turned to him with a broad grin as he said, 'A few years back Dermott actually gave a watered down brew to one of his friends on his wedding night, purely as a joke. What he didn't know was that it has a reverse outcome on the Sime constitution. Luckily the effect only lasts for twenty four hours.'

        'I take it they are no longer friends.' Jordan said dryly.

        'I have no idea.' The Sime said honestly.

        That afternoon Jordan wandered around the farm speaking to everyone he came across, and asking them if they had perhaps spoken to, or had heard of anyone called Logram.

        The result was disappointing.

        At the end of the day Jordan had made up his mind to give up the hunt, and leave the farm the following morning to make his way back to Laurie. But at dinner that night something happened to change his mind.

        'We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow,' Mary Farris suddenly informed her family midway through their meal.

        'We're not likely to forget.' Dermott muttered as he glowered across at his mother.

        'So what's happening tomorrow?' Jordan enquired politely, as he glanced towards Mary Farris, his eyebrows raised.

        It was, however, Ryan who answered him. 'We've got customers arriving from all over the country to view and buy our stock.'

        'Another predawn start I suppose!' An older Farris sitting down the bottom of the table grumbled sourly.

        'Some of us get up at that time every day.' Ryan snapped back.

        'How many females will there be to service?' The matriarch asked looking across at her eldest and ignoring the comments made by the others.

        'Only five that I'm aware of at the moment – all for Jacob of course,' her son stated.

        The old woman nodded her head as she zlinned Jordan's obvious curiosity. 'Some of our customers buy stud rights from us and bring their females to be serviced.' She explained, 'Sometimes of course it doesn't take first time and they have to bring them again next month. But with Jacob, we rarely get many comebacks which is why he's so popular.'

        'That, and the fact that his offspring are usually sturdy and healthy.' Ryan said bluntly.

        'Yes, there is that, too.' Mary Farris acknowledged.

        Jordan had intended to announce to his host tonight that he was leaving the next day, but in light of the fact that tomorrow Simes would be arriving from all over the country, he decided to postpone his departure till he had had time to question them about his cousin.

        'You haven't forgotten that Sven and I are going on a hunt tomorrow have you, Ryan?' One of the younger Simes called across, 'You did say that you could do without us.'

        'That'll be all right Jacque. Just bring back a few Gens with fight in them. Male or female, we can always sell them later on.'

        'How long do you expect to be away?' Dermott asked Sven.

        'With luck, about three days. And according to everyone I've spoken to, the Hollow Mountains are a good place to start.' Jacque informed him at once.

        'You realise that wild Gens like that are going to be a lot more difficult to keep,' the matriarch reminded everyone.

        'I know that, Mother. I've had the sheds at the back reinforced against escape and they'll be drugged anyway.' Ryan said, 'But we have to think long term. After all, some of our customers and their clients have been complaining for ages now that the military are taking a lot of their business, simply because they can supply wild Gens with a real bite to their nagers.'

        'Yes, but ours are brought up for the kill. I prefer a nice solid nager myself.' An old renSime called out.

        'Times change and so does taste,' Dermott reminded everyone.
        'But not always for the better.' His mother snorted back.

        'I'm not so sure about that Mary,' another old Sime called up the table. 'Last year when I was visiting Watlington I couldn't get home in time and had to take a wild Gen I got from the military. It was one of the best kills I've had in many a year.'

        Suddenly the discussion was opened up to the rest of the table and many began to share their experiences and reminiscences.

        Not wishing to listen to any more talk about “favourite kills,” Jordan murmured his apologies to his hostess; pleading tiredness and an early rise tomorrow as an excuse for his leaving the table so early.

        The next day the Channel again presented himself at the breakfast table well before dawn, and having swallowed down a cup of the hot tea and a rice cake, he dutifully followed Ryan out to the sheds where he watched as first the female and then the male Gens were hosed down and then dressed in clean blue smocks for display.

        'Which of them is Jacob?' he finally asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

        'None of them. Jacob has his own shed.' Ryan replied and then grinned briefly as he went on, 'we've found that some of them perform better with the females in private. He was born here so we don't have to drug him, and he usually gets his pick of the crop. But today and tomorrow he knows he has to service the females that are given to him.'

        Jordan bit back a sigh, at least the Gen had a modicum of privacy he thought, only to have his ideas shattered as the Sime went on, 'we have viewing windows for our customers, of course. After all, they have to be certain that they're getting the stud they've actually paid for.'

        It was also the first time that Jordan had seen the females. There were far more of them than there were males. All those that he zlinned appeared to be pregnant. He commented on the fact to Ryan.

        'Yes. If possible we keep the females pregnant most of the time. As you probably know already there's always a shortage of Gens on the open market. We try to keep the best breeders. Those that don't breed consistently are put out for the kill.' Suddenly he turned to look Jordan in the eye as he said, 'some of the men who don't have a woman of their own like to take a Gen now and then. Mother said to help yourself to any of the stock you fancy. No charge to kin.'

        'Thank you, but I… er… I have a woman waiting for me back home,' Jordan said quickly, surprised at the man's sudden generosity.

        'She must be good if you're prepared to wait,' Ryan said with a smirk. 'Can't say I'd be that patient. What the eye doesn't see and all that... still if you change your mind the offer's open.'
        Turning the conversation Jordan asked, 'At dinner the other night I understood several members of your family to say that Genfarmers like the Farrises are finding it difficult to compete against rogue traders who sell wild Gens – and that being the case, what is the wild Gen population? Do you have any idea at all?'

        Ryan turned to zlin him before he said, 'Mother was asked to chair a Government committee last year to discuss the wild Gens situation. They sent a survey team out a few months previously. The report they came back with was quite surprising. It seems that at a fair estimate, wild Gens outnumber Simes at a rate of five to one. Indeed, their population is growing year on year. In fact they are far more prolific than our cultivated stock.'

        'Indeed?' Jordan could not hide his surprise.

        'The Government are considering having a nationwide hunt in the near future, using both the military and the general citizenry to round most of them up.'

'But if they're so prolific living on their own, wouldn't it be better to just leave them there and carry on as you are now? Knowing that at least you are unlikely to run short of wild Gens in the foreseeable future.' Jordan asked, as he realised that this could be another possible reason why Zelerod's doom had been held off for so long. But if they decided on a policy of rounding them up, then the Simes could only excellerate their own ultimate fate.

        'Most Genfarmers are against leaving them to their own devices.' Ryan stated and then pointed out, 'too great a surplus of wild Gens and it'll be more economic for most people to just go out and catch their own, rather than buy them from us.'

        Jordan bit back a sigh as he realised that on this planet at least, plain old-fashioned trade and commercial profit was obviously going to be playing its role in bringing Zelerod's doom to its ultimate conclusion.
The first of the Farris customers arrived before midmorning, and shortly after they began to arrive in even larger groups. It was a fine sunny day and the servants had set out tables under the trees. Each was weighed down with glasses and drink. Food also was in abundance, but this was wasted on most of the Simes as only a few of them picked at the nuts and little else.

        The talk was all about Gens and the Government's idea for rounding up most of the wild Gens. It was the first time Jordan had actually thought about the fact that the entire economy of this planet seemed to be centred on Gens to the exclusion of almost everything else. But then it was not all that surprising he thought honestly. After all, if your very existence was based on having a Gen to kill every month and you had to sometimes hunt one down, it left little time in your life for much else.

Indeed, since he and Laurence had arrived on the planet, he had not seen a sign of any factories or manufacturing plants. While ordinary Simes wore clothes made from wool or animal skins. It was only here on the Reynolds and Farris farms that he had found garments made from cotton. Which meant it was a luxury that only the very wealthy could afford.

For a short while he listened to the various conversations and then walked away to stare into the distance and zlin the horizon, as he considered what he had learned.

First and foremost he realised that most of the trouble on this planet was caused by the fact that there were no householdings or working Channels – which meant that Gens could not be used again and again, but were quite simply, killed.

Births on the Genfarms among the domestic Gens could not really keep up with deaths, especially since females were killed just as often as males. If the wild Gens were hunted out of existence by the Government, just to help the profit margins of Genfarmers like Farris and Reynolds, then this fact alone meant that the advent of Zelerod's doom, which had caused such a change of attitude back on Earth, would sooner or later happen here. This time, however, there would be no Klyd Farris or Hugh Valleroy or indeed anyone else to help avert such a disaster.

The thought was frightening, for Jordan had little doubt but that the whole planet would – in the next few decades – fall into chaos and war as more and more Simes, each of whom looked for a minimum of twelve kills a year, inevitably chased fewer and fewer Gens.

        A shiver ran up his back as he looked ahead to this planet's bleak and miserable future.

Never again would he complain about the many petty irritations that seemed to dog his life at Zeor when he dealt with the Tecton. Indeed, for perhaps the first time in his life he thanked many different deities that with all its faults, and it had many, the Tecton actually existed. Because, without it..!
        Shaking off the feeling of gloom and depression that had begun to descend on him, Jordan walked purposefully towards the nearest group of Simes. The sooner he completed his self imposed task and found his cousin, the sooner he could return to his own world of common sense and sanity.

        Jordan bit back a sigh. He and Laurence had had transfer just before he had entered the castle, which meant he had only a little over one week left before he had to return to his Companion. It also meant, of course, that Vidal and Jason would have received the letter he had written, and had doubtless already carried out his orders – which meant that neither Laurence nor he could ever return to Earth again! It was a sobering thought.

        'Ryan was just telling me that you're a Farris, too.'

        Forcing a smile to his lips and pushing the unwelcome and unhappy thoughts behind him to be considered later, he turned to the nearest female Sime who had just spoken to him.

        'Yes, that's correct.'

        'Are you here to buy stock like my brother and I… or…?'

        'No, I'm merely visiting the family, and helping out while I'm here.' He explained quietly.

        A short time later Jordan was still making the rounds, asking every Sime he spoke to if they had seen or heard of his cousin, but without success. Until with great honesty he admitted to himself that this had been a fruitless journey. Indeed, the whole sorry episode had been a waste of his time.

They should never have left Earth to come to here in the first place. He had placed his Companion in danger. Now they were trapped. Trapped forever on this planet where Zelerod's doom would probably become a nightmare reality in his lifetime.

Thankfully, he and Laurence were not destined to play an active role in this coming drama. That much was true. But they would undoubtedly have to stand by and watch helplessly as it unfolded in front of them.

        Almost in a daze the Channel approached yet another table and came to a halt beside Dermott and two other Simes, who were watching as a group of healthy Gen males all around the age of eighteen were being paraded for their benefit. One elderly Sime was examining their teeth while a younger Sime standing beside him was apparently learning the trade.

        Dermott laughed softly as he observed, 'I used to think old Silo had a fettish about teeth, but apparently he has a strong sense of smell, and can't stand bad breath. He told Ryan that it makes him physically sick. Even if he's only trading them on, he still likes a clean mouth.'

        'I agree with Silo,' one of the other Simes admitted wryly.

        'Well our Gens don't have rotten teeth.' Dermott stated, and then went on. 'The few we do sometimes get – mainly those Gens we didn't raise ourselves – have any bad teeth drawn at once.'

        Jordan moved forward to place his empty glass on the table, which drew Dermott's attention to his presence, and zlinning him quickly he said, 'Ah, gentlemen, this is the one I was telling you about. Jordan Farris.' The two Simes he was speaking to glanced across at him as the younger Sime went on, 'This is Lennis and Darley Mackinroy. We've been doing business together since well before my father died.'

        The three Simes all acknowledged each other's presence, as Dermott went on, turning to the two men. 'Jordan is keen to find a cousin of his. Goes by the name of Logram. You haven't heard of him by any chance?'

        Both Simes shook their heads in denial as Lennis suddenly said, 'By the way have you heard about the trouble in Swindon?'

        'Swindon?' Jordan repeated glancing across at Dermott.

        'It's a smallish town near Preston. About fives miles or so east of here.' Dermott informed him, before he asked, 'What sort of trouble?'

        'Apparently some lorsh turned up and started to talk subversive nonsense in the town square and…'

        'And the Home Guard allowed that to happen?' Dermott said in amazement.

        'They've tried to stop it for years. You know that. But it's in the town statutes that any citizen can stand up and speak about anything they want to in the town square.' Lennis replied at once.

        'So what did he say exactly?' Darley demanded to know.

        'Haven't a clue. I just know that it nearly started a riot. Wait a minute – I think that's Harris over there. He lives only a mile or so from the town. He'll know if anyone does.' He raised his voice and beckoned the man across with a tentacle.

        Jordan stared at Harris in surprise as he approached. He was quite possibly the tallest and skinniest Sime he had ever seen; and must have stood at least six foot eight inches in his stocking feet.

        Darley quickly made the introductions and then asked him about the riot.

        'I happened to be in town that day on business,' he boomed. Jordan wondered how such a deep voice could come from inside such a thin body.

        'What was be talking about to cause a near riot?' Lennis demanded to know.

        'Killing Gens,' the Sime stated.

        'Killing Gens – you mean different ways of doing it?' Lennis repeated, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. 'Hardly seems the cause of a riot.'

'My father taught me long ago that there are lots of different ways to kill Gens. Some are more pleasurable than others.' Dermott stated almost reminiscently.

        'Well not “killing them exactly”,' Harris admitted. 'More NOT killing them – if you see what I mean.'

        'No, can't say that I do.' Dermott said looking confused.

        'Well, he reckons we're killing far too many of them.'

        'Too many? What's too many?' Lennis asked. 'We only kill what we have to, don't we?'

        'Well I only take one a month.' Dermott admitted as he glanced around at the other Simes for support. 'Mind you, Ryan has taken more than his fair share for the three months since he changed over – but that's just pure greed if you ask me – although Mother says he's still settling down.'

        All the other Simes nodded their heads vigorously in agreement with Dermott as Harris went on. 'Well, this fellow reckons if we keep killing them at the present rate – sooner or later we're going to run out.'

        'Utter rubbish.' Dermott said at once, emphasising his words with the flick of a tentacle he went on. 'Just take a look inside those sheds if you don't believe me.'

        'I agree with you. But he did have facts and figures to back him up. If I hadn't known better, I might have believed him.' Harris admitted.

        'And that's what's so dangerous about people like that. They sound so shenning plausible. In fact, they could even start some real trouble if we allowed them to carry on,' Lennis said. 'Did the military step in?'

        'Someone must have sent for them but he'd already gone when they got there.' Harris replied.

         'That's a shame.' Dermott murmured, 'was he alone?'

        'He had no more than a dozen or so rabblerousers with him as far as I could tell. The usual suspects, youngsters with nothing better to do.' Harris scratched his head with his tentacles before he went on. 'I've heard tell he's turned up at several market towns in the area, but has always moved on before he can be detained.'

        'I'd like to see him try it in Preston.' Lennis murmured angrily.

        'He'd be lynched if he did.' Dermott agreed.

        'Did he by any chance have a name?' Jordan asked quietly.

        'Not as far as I know,' Harris said and then turned to zlin Jordan more closely as he observed, 'but he did have a funny sort of accent, as a matter of fact it was a lot like yours.'

        'Jordan comes from up North.' Dermott volunteered. 'Maybe he comes from up that way, too.'

        'Could be. I might just tell the military next time I see one of them. It could help them find him and lock him away before he causes any more trouble.' Harris snorted.

        'Is it necessary to lock the man away?' Jordan said softly, 'for all we know he could be on to something. After all, if there is likely to be a Gen shortage at some time in the future, surely it's best that we know about it now? It'll give us time to do something about it.'

        'And what could we do exactly?' Lennis asked sarcastically. 'Gen females can only bear one child a year, and some of them are destined to be Sime. Mind you, I did hear that some Government scientists are working on a drug to increase the number of infants a female Gen can carry to full term.'

        'That's all very well. But I'm a Genfarmer and I can tell you, if they carried two or three at a time, and even one of them was destined to be Sime they might drain the mother before they were even born. We lose enough that way as it is, and that's when she's only carrying one.' Dermott pointed out.

        Jordan listened with half an ear, but did not join in the conversation as he thought about what Harris had said. “He had a funny sort of accent, a lot like yours!” Could it be? No of course not, he was merely clutching at straws.

        Ryan had strolled across and joined them as Dermott finished talking. 'We breed from the females as soon after birth as possible. But sometimes they have to have a break between pregnancies or we lose the mother, too.' The older Farris brother pointed out.

        Dermott nodded his agreement and then told his brother about the trouble in Swindon.

        'Yes I heard about that from a couple over there. It looks like the military are on his tail.' Ryan informed them.

        'In what way?' Jordan asked at once.

        Ryan grinned. 'Well we've always said that our military are halfwits. It seems we've been doing them a disservice. They've found a pattern to the man's movements. They marked the places that he's already visited on a map and been able to deduce where he's likely to go next and they're going to lie in wait for him.'

        'Don't credit them with too much.' Dermot said with a grin, 'they haven't caught him yet – remember.'

        The other Simes laughed as they all nodded their heads in agreement.

        'And what town is he expected to go to next?' Jordan asked softly.

        'I hear tell that it could be Boston.'

        'But that's not even a real town.' Lennis stated in surprise. 'There's only a handful of Sime living there.'

        'Last I heard there was well over three hundred,' Dermott corrected him. 'They had a big influx when the mine closed over at Shylock.'

        As the other Simes went on talking, Jordan made up his mind to leave the following morning and head for Boston. He doubted if the man they spoke of was indeed his cousin, but it was one final throw of the dice before he finally gave up and returned to find Laurie. For it seemed that he and his Companion had more than Logram to worry about now.

Indeed, since Vidal and Jason would by now have blown up their only chance of escape from this planet, their very future on this strange and savage world had now to be decided.


        Entering the gaming room at the tavern Vidal made straight for a small bar that ran along one wall and he and Arik sat down on the tall stools. Once he had ordered two glasses of the local ale he turned to watch three men who were playing cards; although the game they played was unknown to him.

        'Don't zlin them.' Arik warned in a whisper.


        'It's against the law to zlin anyone playing a game of chance. You could be helping one of them to win,' the young Sime pointed out.

        'Good point,' Vidal admitted, although on Earth it was not against the law to zlin a game of chance; unless of course the game was for high stakes, and the participants agreed to a certain code of behaviour before they began to play. After a moment or so he turned to Arik and asked, 'Do you know how to play, whatever it is they're playing?'


        'Good.' Turning to the Sime behind the bar he asked to borrow a deck of the strange cards and moved with Arik to one of the tables at the far side of the room.

        'Show me,' he instructed at once.

        Thankfully. Vidal was a quick study. It took less than half an hour for the Channel to pick up first the basics of the game and then the finer points. Indeed, the Channel had played a lot more difficult games. While the two Simes had been engrossed in their game, the room had gradually filled up.

        Glancing around Vidal noted that several tables were now filled with Simes. Nodding for Arik to stay where he was, Vidal walked across the floor and approached one of the tables where two Simes were just sitting down.

Although not a gambler by nature the Channel was nevertheless lucky at cards and most other games of chance as well. Indeed, he recalled that he and Jason had once gone to a pleasure planet where Vidal had had to pose as a gambler, so he was certainly not without experience.

        Within a short space of time he was invited to sit at the table, and the three Simes were soon engrossed in their first game of the evening.

        Vidal started with just ninety five groats, having kept a few groats back in case his luck was out. During the course of the night his fortune did indeed swing first one way, and then the other.

What he missed most of all was not being able to zlin his opponents, but he could see the reason for the stipulation. After all, a sensitive Channel like himself whilst he could not, of course ,see what cards the other Simes held in their hands – nevertheless he would have been able to pick up on the slight nuances in their fields which might have given him clues that could have helped him to win.

In his younger days he had played cards with other Channels. And one of their great delights in the game was zlinning each other, whilst each was using their field to try and mislead the others.

        In the wee small hours of the morning the last game slowly drew to a close. Vidal had increased his winnings to just three hundred and twenty groats. Not as much as he would have liked, but perhaps a little more than he had expected.

         Walking across to Arik he saw that the boy was staring down into his glass of ale completely lost in what to Vidal looked like a rather unpleasant daydream.

        'A groat for them,' he offered.

        'What?' Arik jerked awake and stared up at him as he spoke.

        'Sorry I didn't mean to surprise you. Jason often asks to pay me for my thoughts. I wondered what yours were?'

        'They're not worth a groat,' the Sime muttered back as he stood up, 'how much did we make?'

        Vidal told him.

        'Not bad, especially as it's your first time.'

        'Hardly my first game,' the Channel laughed, 'but I know what you mean. Shall we go on up? I haven't heard a commotion, so I trust they're both all right.'

        'Yeah they've probably stuffed themselves with food and are snoring their heads off.' Arik stated sourly.

        Vidal smiled and agreed with the young Sime as they mounted the stairs together.

        The next day the four men set out once more, having purchased more food from the hostelry, together with another basket to carry it in.

Thankfully it had stopped raining, but nevertheless the two Gens slipped again and again as they trudged through the mud behind the two horses.

Soon, however, they found that they had left the small villages behind and were passing various fields full of vegetables. They quickly filled the baskets washing the mud off the root vegetables as best they could, in the large puddles that had appeared along the side of the track.

        'I hope no one can zlin us doing this.' Laurie said glancing around at the far horizon.

        'There's no one within zlinning distance,' the Channel informed him calmly.

        'How far can you zlin?' Young Arik the Great suddenly asked as he glanced across at his fellow Sime.

'A fair distance.' Vidal admitted quietly.

        'And how far is that?' The boy persisted.

        'How far do you reckon we are from Preston?'

        'I asked how far it was when we bought the food,' the renSime stated, 'the shopkeeper said maybe twelve miles or thereabouts.'

        Vidal nodded his agreement as he said quietly, 'I can just about zlin Preston from here…not clearly it's true…but…'

        'No you can't!' Arik said with disbelief. 'That's a shenning lie.'

        'I assure you that it's not.' Vidal said with a brief smile.

        'Zlin him!' Laurie called across, 'can't you see he's telling the truth?'

        'He's a renSime Laurie, and even though I am not a Farris Channel, I doubt he is able to do what you ask, especially if I chose to mislead him.' Vidal said softly.

        'He zlins like he's telling the truth. But maybe he's lying to himself,' the boy stated, 'so that don't mean a thing. I never met anyone that could zlin that far.'

        'Well now you have.' Jason said with a sigh before he went on. 'Twelve miles seems a long long way to me. I don't mind walking when it's dry – but when it's so muddy under foot. Is there no way that we can climb up behind you?' He asked, putting his dislike of horses behind him as he looked wistfully across at Vidal.

        The Channel regretfully shook his head. 'There are any number of small settlements on the route ahead, long before we reach Preston itself – and to be truthful with you, we daren't really take the chance.' Vidal confessed as he zlinned the two Gens. A short while later they set out once more.

        'Are we going to go straight into the city?' Arik asked.

        'No. I think that would be unwise. It'll be far better if we skirt around it. As far as I'm aware the Genfarms are on the far side anyway.' Vidal replied.

        'And if Jordan isn't there?' Laurie called out.

        'We can't plan too far ahead,' Vidal called back, 'let's get there first shall we, and then decide?'

        For the next two hours the two Gens slogged on through the thick heavy mud until Vidal suddenly called a halt and dismounted to speak to them. 'I can zlin a small party of Simes just up ahead below the brow of the hill. Keep your heads down when we pass by. Do not speak and do not make eye contact.' He instructed the two Gens. 'And in this instance I want both of you to allow me to handle your fields.' The two Gens nodded their acquiescence.

Remounting once more he glanced across at the young renSime briefly before they set out once more. This time Vidal was damping down both Jason and Laurie's nageric prominence. The last thing he wanted at this moment in time was to excite the curiosity of the strange Simes who were approaching them – especially since he had no idea who they were or what their business might be.

They had, of course, passed various other travellers on the road, but most of them were in ones or twos, or sometimes a family would pass in an open cart. This time there appeared to be quite a group of adult Simes, which gave Vidal real cause for concern.

One moment the road was clear, and the next a party of five Simes suddenly appeared over the brow of the hill. Drawing the two horses to one side both Vidal and Arik waited patiently for the Simes to pass them by, their eyes alert.

'Where are you taking the Gens?' One of the Simes called across.

'Preston.' Vidal said briefly.

'Where'd you get them?' The same Sime demanded to know. 'We lost a couple of Gens a few days ago. As a matter of fact they looked a lot like them!'

Vidal knew they were lying, as he said calmly. 'Then you are mistaken.'

'I don't think so, mister. Hand them over.'

Jason glanced across at Laurie it seemed that this confrontation was not going to be settled peacefully.

'I don't think so. I suggest you all go on your way and we'll forget this ever happened, otherwise I shall have to tell the military and…'

All the Simes began to laugh and Arik stared at the other Simes before he turned to Vidal and said, 'they are the military. At least two of them are. I'm not sure about the others.'

'Your young friend is correct,' one of the other Simes shouted out.

'Then you should be ashamed,' Vidal stated bluntly, 'and to be honest I don't care who or what you are. As far as I'm concerned you're nothing but a shenning mob of lorshes. Now get out of our way or you'll regret it.'

As though on a prearranged signal, the five Simes attacked. Young Arik jumped onto the back of one and drawing out a knife that he had been carrying for Jason, who dare not carry it in case a passing Sime zlinned it on him, he slit the man's throat with great efficiency.

Vidal met the second one in midair and the two Simes landed in a heap on the ground between the hooves of the two horses whilst the third Sime – who also held a knife – now circled around Arik looking for an opening to strike.

The fourth one moved to help his fellow Sime who was fighting with Vidal under the hooves of the horses.

The final one augmented slightly as he moved to grab the two Gens. The Sime obviously expected no trouble from them. He was therefore shocked to find himself confronting Laurie who began to entice him with his robust field. Moments later the Sime lay dead in the mud from transfer shock, as the two Gens turned and went to the aid of their friends.

Laurie and Jason quite literally threw their fields at the Sime that was attacking Arik. Then without waiting to see him collapse under the shock of the Genslam, Jason jumped in front of the Sime that was still trying to reach Vidal – enticing him with his field until he suddenly screamed out loud as Jason's fingers drug into his lower arms, and he found that the Sime was dead in his arms.

        The last Sime did not realise what was happening until Laurie's ripe field crashed into his senses and he turned as though mesmerised to face the Gen, his tentacles out, seeking his arms. Seconds later the Gen shenned him and then ignoring the dead body turned to look for the next assailant, only to realise that they were all dead.

        Resting one hand on the hindquarters of one of the horses, Jason, still panting, stared around at the carnage they had wrought, as he said quickly, 'is everyone all right?'

        Vidal was already on his knees beside young Arik helping him to get to his feet.

        'Is he okay?' Jason asked.

        The Channel nodded quickly as he said, 'he was just a little too close to your Genslam for comfort.'

        The young renSime looked a little green as he staggered to his feet and said, 'we'll have to hide the bodies,' He wiped his knife on a dead Sime's shirt.

        Vidal thought for a moment or two and then said, 'I wonder if we should report the incident to the military – surely they can't all be corrupt?'

        'You want to take a chance on that?' Arik demanded looking at the Channel as if he were mad, 'because I don't.'

        'He's right Vidal. This isn't Earth. Law and justice just don't mean the same thing here.' Jason pointed out as he helped Laurie carry one of the bodies to the side of the track.

        Laurie bent to grab hold of the second body before he said bluntly, 'it comes down to this. Do we trust the military on this planet to do the right thing or don't we? I know what my answer to that question is.'

        'I'm sorry to say that in this instance I have to agree with all of you. We daren't take the chance.' Vidal confessed honestly with a rueful shake of his head.

        'Good you're seeing sense for once.' Jason said with a half smile at the Channel. 'Now come and give us a hand to dispose of the evidence.'

        An hour later found them underway, their attackers bodies buried deep in the mud under a low lying hedge – most of the digging having been done by the two Simes, over young Arik's very vocal objections.

        Skirting around the city of Preston added many hours to their journey. Thankfully, due to Vidal's luck at the card table they were able to spend the night – if not comfortably – then at least under cover and warm at one of the many taverns that they came across.

        Vidal had gone out to purchase food, primarily for the Gens who were getting sick of a constant diet of mainly raw vegetables. He came back flushed with excitement.

        'Are you all right?' Jason demanded as soon as the door had closed behind his partner.

        'Never better,' the Channel said with a broad smile as he handed the bag of groceries to Laurie. 'I got talking to the grocer. I said I was looking for work.' He paused briefly and then went on, 'he said there are two big Genfarms in the area and several small crop farms.'

        'We knew that.' Jason stated as he helped himself to a chunk of fresh warm bread and the piece of reddish looking cheese.

        'Yes. We knew that.' Vidal agreed hardly able to contain his excitement. 'But we didn't know that the biggest Genfarm is owned by the Farris family!'

        Both Jason and Laurie stopped eating to stare at the Channel. It was Laurie who recovered first. 'You've got to be joking!'

Only Arik showed no surprise as he looked from one face to the other until he finally said, 'What's so strange about that? Everyone's heard of Farris.'

The three friends all turned as one to look at the young Sime as Vidal said, 'So tell me – what do you know about the Farris family Arik?'

'Not much. But I've heard of them. They're wealthy and…'

'So nothing new there.' Jason muttered, only to fall silent as Vidal raised a tentacle in his direction. 'Sorry.'

'Go on, Arik.' Vidal encouraged.

'Like I just said, they're wealthy and everyone says they're above the law.'

'That shouldn't be very hard to achieve, since there's no law here!' Laurie blurted out only to fall silent as Vidal frowned across at him.

'Go on, Arik,' the Channel said yet again, his eyes resting on the young renSime's face. 'What makes you believe they're above the law?'

'Everyone says they are.' The boy said bluntly.

'Who is “everyone”?' Vidal pressed.

The Sime looked confused as he frowned slightly and then said,
'“everyone,” yer know what I mean? Say Farris to anyone and they'll say the same as me.'

Vidal sighed as he glanced across at the two Gens and then said diplomatically, 'I think from what Arik says we can deduce that the Farrises are notoriously wealthy and have a lot of influence on society as a whole. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to take us much further forward.'

'No it doesn't,' Jason said quickly. 'I reckon if Logram or Jordan did come this way and heard about the Farrises, they'd make a beeline for the farm. Just out of sheer curiosity if nothing else. Don't you agree?'

Laurie agreed at once as he turned to the Channel and said quietly, 'I think we should go there first thing in the morning.'

'I agree, but what cover story shall we use?' Vidal asked at once.

'We could offer these two for sale,' young Arik suggested, and then smirked as he saw the looks that the two Gens were giving him.

For the next hour or so the three of them tossed around various scenarios, after Vidal had sent the young renSime downstairs to listen to the local gossip in case he should learn something of value.

The two Gens were already asleep when Arik finally returned to the room.

        Vidal glanced up, not really expecting the renSime to have learned anything worthwhile.

        'It's open house at the Farris Farm all this week. All their existing and potential customers are going there to look at the stock.' He said calmly.

        'What? Are you sure about this?'

        ''Course I am!'

        'Sorry. I didn't mean to sound sceptical, but this is great news.'

        'It is?' The boy sat down on a rickety chair and pulled off his boots.

        'We've been racking our brains all evening trying to decide how we can gain entrance to the farm without causing suspicion. Now I think we may just have found a way to do it.'

        The next morning, in light of what Arik had heard downstairs, the plan they had devised the night before was immediately dumped. A new one was quickly decided upon.

        Vidal would arrive at the farm as a potential customer who was setting up his first Genfarm many hundreds of miles away down in the south of the country.

Young Arik – who it was decided would accompany him as his servant – had suggested the south of the country. Apparently it was still a completely wild territory that had only been opened up in the last few years.

The two Gens would remain outside the farm. Finding them a suitable place in which to hide would probably prove to be the hardest part of the entire plan.

        The two Gens having eaten their first meal of the day – they all set out in the direction of the Farris homestead. Vidal was hopeful that they would find a suitable hiding place en route.

        'You know if we don't decide on a place soon, we're all going to arrive at the shenning farm together.' Jason pointed out as the Channel dismissed yet another hidey hole as “totally unsuitable.”

        'I tend to agree with Jason.' Laurie stated. 'We're in open country here so there aren't all that many places to choose from. We either get down into one of the drainage ditches, or go into one of the derelict farm cottages – but that's about it.'

        'The ditches are half full of water after all the rain we've had, which means you would have to sit in water all day, and lower yourself down into the water every time anyone passed near by. As far as the empty cottages are concerned they have no insulation at all, which means every renSime within a mile of the place would zlin the pair of you and make straight for the cottage!' The Channel pointed out bluntly.

        'All right. So you come up with a better suggestion.' Jason said staring around at the open landscape.

        'Why not hide them in one of the old Gen sheds?' Arik suddenly asked.

        'What!?' Vidal turned to stare down at the young renSime.
        Arik repeated his question as he pointed with a tentacle to a one storey dilapidated building on the horizon.

        'Why aren't they using it?' Jason asked.

        Vidal shook his head, 'for one of a thousand reasons I suppose. Perhaps they decided this ground is better for crops. Or they had an epidemic and decided to build somewhere else, who knows?'

        'But surely if they had an epidemic, they would have burned the place to the ground.' Laurie stated.

        'Maybe. How do I know?' Vidal said again before he went on, 'but I think Arik's suggestion is a good one. To be truthful, I would never have picked it for what it is. In the old days on Earth, Pens had pennants flying from them. But of course they don't have Pens here. However, I would imagine that the Gen sheds here and the Pens we had on Earth have one thing in common. They would all be really well insulated. In other words your average Sime would not be able to zlin into them from outside.'

        'So, the ideal place to hide.' Laurie murmured.
'Exactly.' Vidal nodded his head as he said, 'let's take a closer look shall we?'
        'How long do you think you'll be?' Jason demanded as Vidal inspected the shed and decided it was suitable for their purpose.

        'Only a few hours. Because I should be able to ascertain very quickly if Jordan is there or not.'

        Laurie smiled as he pointed out, 'I know you'll be able to zlin Jordan almost at once, but what about Logram – you've only met him once.'

        'Yes. He will be far more difficult. I shall just have to hope that he's using his own name. If not…' He shrugged his shoulders.


        As the whole of the Farris clan was mobilised into tending to the wants of their many customers and potential customers, Jordan had not had time to speak to his hosts about leaving today. He, therefore, had to go looking for them this morning, but not until he had first helped out in the Gen sheds. It was much later in the morning before he felt free to take his leave.

Exiting one of the main sheds he removed the apron he had worn, and hung it on a peg beside the door, when suddenly it hit him! No. He had to be mistaken –didn't he? Inside the shed, his zlinning abilities had been minimal because of the excellent insulation that had been installed, but here on the outside…

        Turning slowly he zlinned the area thoroughly – and yes, it was undoubtedly still there. Vidal, unless he was in error, was definitely in the vicinity. But what was he doing here? And if he was here, where was Jason?

        A hundred different questions began to churn in his mind, as Jordan walked quickly towards where he sensed that his friend was standing. Approaching the corner of one of the outbuildings he came to a halt as Vidal suddenly appeared in front of him.

        'Jordan! I thought it was you!'

        'What the shen are you doing here Vidal?' The Sectuib whispered as he grasped his friend's arm and pulled him to one side. His eyebrows rose as he noticed a scrawny looking renSime was following them. 'And what's he doing here?'

         'This is “Arik the Great.” He's with me. It's a long story. I'll explain everything later.' Vidal said.

        'I know who he is.' Jordan replied with a quick nod in the boy's direction. 'But I'd still like to know why you're here?'

        Vidal smiled briefly as he pointed out, 'be grateful that I am or you wouldn't be able to return home. The portal would already have been destroyed.'

        'I'm aware of that. And don't think I'm not grateful, because I am – believe me. I'd hate to think that I would be spending the rest of my life here on this godforsaken planet – wherever here is. For once I'm glad that like Jason and Laurie you don't take orders very well either,' the Sectuib admitted wrly, and then asked anxiously. 'By the way where is Jason? I take it you did bring him with you? You weren't stupid enough to come alone?'

        'No. He wouldn't have let me do that,' Vidal confessed, and then explained. 'But I couldn't very well bring him with me, so I left the two of them in one of the disused Gen Sheds we passed on the way here.'

        'Them? You brought Laurie along, too?'

        'I had no choice,' he admitted wryly.
        'How did you find him?'

        'I didn't. Jason did that while I was inside the castle looking for you.'

        'It seems you have a very long story to tell.'

        Vidal nodded. 'You, too. But tell me – is there any news about your cousin?'

        'Yes and no. Come let's walk down here. We don't want to draw too much attention to ourselves.' Jordan began to walk along with Arik trailing behind listening to every word. 'A man who goes by the name of Harris, and is a Farris customer, has been talking about an alleged troublemaker. He said that this man, whoever he is, has been stirring up trouble in several of the surrounding townships.' Jordan paused to glance at his friend before he went on. 'Apparently this man has been trying to warn the population that if they keep on killing Gens at the rate they're going, then before too long – supply is not going to meet demand.'

        'Just as Zelerod predicted on Earth.' Vidal said softly and then admitted, 'I've been thinking along similar lines myself. Do you really think it possible that that could happen here?'

        The Sectuib nodded his head gravely before he said sadly, 'in my view there's no doubt about it – more so because they have no householdings or Channels to intervene and show them how not to kill.'

        'So what's our next move?'

        'As a matter of fact I was planning to leave here this morning and make for a place called Boston.'

        'Why there?'

        'The military have worked out that the troublemaker – their words not mine – is planning to speak in Boston in the next day or so.'

        'Why… are the military involved?' Vidal asked in surprise.

        'Because the troublemaker is considered to be subversive.' Jordan explained quietly, 'and free speech is not welcomed here.'

        'The shen it isn't. You know the more I hear about this planet, the less I like it.'

        Jordan grinned his agreement as he said, 'I suggest you wander around a bit and look interested, while I go and find one of the family and take my leave.'

        'Good. I shalln't be sorry to leave here. This is not really my idea of fun,' Vidal confessed and then stopped dead as both he and Jordan zlinned a commotion on the far side of the house that appeared to involve a large number of Simes and...

        'What the shen is going on there?' Jordan demanded as he tried to decide how many Simes were involved, including the nagers of at least two members of the Farris family. 'Come on we'd better take a look.' He said, and the three Simes began to augment as they approached what appeared to be a fracas of some sort.

        Jordan suddenly skidded to a halt and grabbed Vidal's arm. 'Shen and shid. They have them! It's Laurie and Jason.'

        Vidal felt the blood drain from his face in horror, as he, too, zlinned the familiar Gen nagers in the middle of all the others. 'You're right. What the shen can we do?'

        'Nothing, for the time being. There's just too many Simes around.' Jordan said as he bit his lip in frustration. 'Well I can't go now; it's a good thing I didn't take my leave from the family earlier, or I'd have had to find another excuse to stay.'

        'Look, Jordan, they all know who you are. Go over and see if you can find out where they're taking them.' Vidal urged his friend.

        'I have a fair idea of where they'll put them. It'll be in one of the quarantine sheds on the far side over there,' he pointed with a tentacle, 'they're the most secure.'

        'But how did they get caught?'

        'It doesn't really matter now, does it?' Jordan pointed out.

        'No, of course not.' Vidal shook his head in frustration as Jordan signalled for him and Arik to remain where they were – while he went closer to the large group of Simes who were now standing over the two Gens – both of whom were lying on the floor, tied at wrist and ankle.

        Moving closer to them Jordan managed to catch Laurie's eye and nodded surreptitiously at him, before he approached Mary Farris who was standing to one side while her two sons dealt with the wild Gens.

        'Madam,' he smiled politely at his hostess before he asked politely nodding at the two Gens. 'Trouble?'

        'It could have been. Ryan was showing a few potential customers around the Farm, he used a shortcut across the lower pastures and zlinned two wild Gens inside one of our disused sheds,' she informed him bluntly. 'It's a good thing it was him and not someone else – or they might well have got away without being noticed.'

        'But why hide so near to a Genfarm?'

        The matriarch shook her head, 'Search me – I have no idea. Just shows you how stupid Gens can be.'

        Dermott walked across to his mother and said briefly, 'Ryan's putting them in one of the quarantine sheds for the time being, if you agree?'

        'Yes, it's the best place for them.' She said and then went on, 'well we've been thinking about breeding extra bite into our Gens, and from what I can zlin, these two will do just fine.'

        Dermot went to walk away and then turned back hesitantly, '…er… Mother, Ryan was talking about taking one of the wild Gens himself.'

        'Why? It's not his assignment day for a week.' She snapped back.

        Dermott immediately nodded his head in agreement and scurried away as the old woman turned to Jordan and said angrily. 'I swear, Ryan's driving me crazy. Even the first month he only just made it through – and last month he barely managed three weeks. He seems to be getting steadily worse. I just don't understand it. Mind you, his father was much the same. Always coming up short.'

        'I did hear tell that the more sensitive the Sime, the more selyn they need,' Jordan said quietly.

        'Yes. I've heard that, too. I've occasionally had an extra kill myself, now and again, but with Ryan – if I'm not mistaken – it's going to be every month.'

Suddenly she extended a tentacle and imperiously waved to her eldest son, then waited as he hurried across.

        'Yes, Mother?'

        'Dermott tells me that you are coming up short again, Ryan, and that you want to take one of the wild Gens you've just caught?'

        'Yes, Mother. I'm sorry, I really am. I swear I haven't been augmenting. I just feel that if I could have one really good kill it would help me so much.' He paused and then went on almost desperately. 'The two wild Gens…they're…I can't explain it – but there fields are calling to me. I've never felt nagers like them.'

        I just bet you haven't! Jordan thought wryly as he listened to the confrontation before he said to the matriarch, 'would you like me to leave?'

        'No. Everyone knows about Ryan's “trouble.” It's no secret in the family – and you are family.' She said brusquely before she turned back to her son and went on. 'Fantastic nagers don't come along all that often, Ryan, which is one very good reason why you should leave them well alone – or the next thing you know you'll be craving it every time,' his mother stated. 'Look, you may not believe this, but I don't want to be too hard on you. I know what it's like to have such a great need gnawing away at your insides. So, take your kill. Take it tonight, but use one of our homegrown Gens. Anyone you like.'

        'But, Mother…'

        'No, Ryan. Do what I say.' The matriarch paused and then said, 'your father would sometimes take a pregnant female. He said that it helped. You might consider that.'

        'No. I much prefer one of the big males.'

        'Then take one – but not one of the wild Gens, Ryan. Are you listening to me?'

        'Yes, Mother.'
        A short while later Jordan again met up with Vidal and told him where they would be keeping the two Gens. 'I think we should get them out tonight and be gone before morning,' Jordan stated.

        'You seem a little worried.'

        'Ryan, the eldest son is a Channel, although, of course, he has no idea that he is – and on top of that, although totally undisciplined, he is also a First. Worse than that he's starting to become fixated on one of our Gens. I don't know for sure which one, and I don't think he does either.'

        'They're both Companions and TN-1's,' Vidal pointed out.

        'Exactly. And his mother has forbidden him to take either of them. But I very much doubt if he intends to heed her, no matter what the consequences.'

        'I don't believe Ryan could really force either of them.' Vidal said honestly, 'not if he wants to live.'

        'I agree. But it's not that that worries me Vidal. The Farris family on this world are not only wealthy, but they seem to have unmitigated and complete power, even over the military regime that rules the planet.' He paused and then said, 'can you imagine what would happen if the heir apparent of the Farris family was to be killed by either Jason or Laurie? The pursuit would never let up. The reward for their capture would be immense. To be honest with you, I don't think we would ever make it back to the portal without being caught.'
        'So, the sooner we get away from here, the better.'

        'Yes. And we have to let them know that we're going to get them out after dark tonight. After all, we don't want them to make a precipitous move.' Jordan turned to glance at young Arik who was listening intently. 'Do you think Arik could get a message to them?'

        'Well – Arik, what do you think?' Vidal asked quickly.

        'Don't see why not.'

        'What excuse would you use if you were caught?' Jordan demanded.

        The young renSime grinned up at the two Channels. 'I'd say that I'd never seen a wild Gen up close before and I just wanted to have a look.'

        Vidal glanced across at Jordan as he said softly, 'it might just work.'


        Jason watched as Arik slipped away from the barred window and then turned to look at Laurie shaking his head.

        'So they're coming to get us out later tonight. That's fine. But what I don't understand is the other part of the message.'

        'You mean the bit about not killing a young Farris Channel if he tries to take transfer from one of us?' Laurie asked with a frown.

Jason nodded. 'Yes, and the only defence either of us really has against an attacking Sime is to shen them when they try to take us…'

        'Or squeeze their tentacles.' Laurie murmured.

        'Exactly.' Jason sighed, moving his body on the hard floor as he tried to get more comfortable. 'You know there's really no way we can get out of here. I just don't understand why they've chained us to the wall like this.'

        'Taking no chances.' Laurie said with a grin. 'We're dangerous wild Gens remember.'

        'You know, I've been thinking…'

        'Don't do yourself an injury.'

        'Shut up for a minute Laurie – this is serious.'

        'Do you think I don't know that!?'

        'Well listen up, okay? If the Sectuib is correct and this Farris Channel does come to try and take one of us tonight before our Channels arrive, and we aren't supposed to kill him either before or during transfer. Tell me, what the shen are we supposed to do!?'

        'To be honest with you, Jason, I really and truly have no idea.' Laurie acknowledged with a sigh. 'I just keep hoping that it doesn't happen.'

        'Don't be an ostrich.' Jason snapped.

        'Okay – so why don't you come up with something?'

        'I'm trying. Let me think about it.'

        'Look, Jason, let's be honest about this. We both know that it comes right down to it one of us is going to have to give him transfer.'

        'Oh – that's a truly brilliant idea – great! We'll let the bastard take transfer from one of us. Fan...tas...tic! And what does the other one do then? Give transfer to both our Channels!? I'd just love to see you try.'

        'Shut up Jason. What else can we do?'

        'But we don't even know which one of us he's fixed on, do we?'

        'Well that shouldn't be too much of a problem.' Laurie said at once. 'One of us can dampen their field, while the other can entice.'

        'Mmm… I suppose so.' Jason leaned forward and scratched his head before he said, 'you haven't answered my other question. What do we do about our Channels afterwards?'

        'We'll just have to let them decide.' Laurie said bluntly. 'Remember we're only obeying their orders. After all, if this lorsh is not to end up dead, what else can we do?'

        'Nothing – I know that.' Jason said with resignation. 'I do understand all the ramifications Laurie, but I don't have to like it.'

        They both finally fell silent, till Laurie said softly, 'with any luck the boys will come galloping to our rescue, and we won't have to make any decisions at all.

         'And Simes might fly.'

        'You know – when I was little my mother used to tell me a story about Simes that could turn into bats and fly.' Laurie said softly.

        'Yes. My Mother used to read to me about Simes who years ago could fly. She used to say that the stories were true. I wonder if Sime mothers tell stories about flying Gens to their kids. I'll have to ask Vidal.' Jason murmured reminiscently.

        'Flying Simes – are you sure about that?' Laurie sounded doubtful.

        'Well the book said it was true.'

        Another hour dragged slowly by. The Sun was already setting outside, and the shadows cast by the barred window were getting longer and longer across the straw laden floor.

        'I'm starving, what about you?' Laurie suddenly asked.

        'Yes. I...'

        'Shh… a minute Jason. Someone's coming.'

        Seconds later the outer door swung open and then clanged shut. The two Gens tried to see who their visitor was in the darkening gloom.

        'Whoever you are, would you mind lighting a candle?' Jason asked, as he watched a dark shadow glide across the floor in their direction.

        'Shut up!'

        'Ah, such charming manners. You must be the Farris Channel.' Jason murmured.

        'I said shut up Gen! Don't talk!'

        'Now that's just plain rude. Don't you think that's rude, Laurie?'

        'Yes. I do.'

        'I suppose he's using our nagers to zlin by. It hardly seems fair that he can see us, and we can't see him.' Jason went on calmly.

        'Which of us are you after?' Laurie suddenly demanded.

        'I'll kill you both if you don't shut up!'

        'Now… now… behave. Didn't your mother ever tell you that it's greedy to stuff yourself? Always leave the table feeling you can eat just one spoonful more. That's what mine used to tell me.' Jason said with a grin.

         'Mine, too.' Laurie called across.

        'Do you want to take him, Laurie, or shall I?' Jason demanded conversationally as the Sime stopped between the two of them and stared from one to the other in obvious confusion – as for a moment they each used their fields to draw him closer.

        'What the shen are you doing to me?' Fear was evident in his voice.

        'Deciding which of us has drawn the short straw.' Laurie retorted lightly as he called across to Jason, 'Well, who's it going to be?'

        'If I had a coin we could toss it and decide that way.' Jason said facetiously, 'but seeing as how we don't…okay I'll do it.'

        'You're sure about this?'

        'Deadly sure.' Jason said, and chuckled out loud at his own pun.
        'You do realise that he is going to try and kill you?' Laurie said quietly.

        '“Try,” is the operative word in that sentence.' Jason retorted as he used both the wall and the chains to help him stand up. 'Shen it but my legs have gone to sleep.'

        'I'm dampening my field now.' Laurie warned.

        'Fine, I'm going to fall down again soon if I don't get some support.' Jason said as he strained to see the rogue Channel standing in front of him. 'Come on then, give me a little help here,' he said softly.

But before the words had left his mouth there was a scurry of feet across the floor, and the Sime was in front of him in kill mode his handsome face twisted grotesquely, his tentacles dripping with ronaplin. Jason held out his arms to those tentacles feeling the lash as they wrapped around and bit into his flesh.

There was none of the consideration or care that both Vidal and Jordan brought to the act. Yet even as the thought entered his mind, hot dry Sime lips touched his own in a bruising kiss that pressed harshly against his teeth and bit into his lip to force his head back against the stone wall.

Ryan was used to immobilising and then taking the selyn from his victims, but this was totally different – for the Gen almost effortlessly took control away from him and began to push the selyn into his system faster and faster till he was filled to capacity – and yet still the sparkling field surrounded him. Realising he could take no more, it was Jason who finally broke lip contact, the Channel still grasping his arms with fingers and tentacles. His head back his eyes closed in sheer ecstacy.

In all the eighteen years of his life, Ryan had never before felt a moment of such perfect bliss and rapture as every part of his being was fulfilled. It was only then that he realised that the Gen was still alive…!

Abruptly he threw the Gen backwards so that his head hit the wall, as he demanded hoarsely, 'what the shen are you!?' Almost fearful of the answer he might receive, Ryan began to move backwards away from the Gen, his tentacles retracted firmly back into their sheaths as far as they would go.

'I'm a Gen – nothing more.' Jason said as he tried to rub the back of his head but found that the chain was just a little too short. 'A simple “thank you” would have been sufficient. You didn't have to do that you know.'

'Why aren't you dead? You should be dead!'

        'Should I? Laurie did you hear that? He says I should be dead.'
        'Shut up Gen!! This isn't right! I've got to think about this…' The Sime spun around and raced to the door slamming it shut behind him.

        'Good night and thank you!' Laurie called after him, before he asked, 'are you all right Jason?'

        Jason nodded and then realised that his fellow Gen could not see him in the darkness. 'Yes. I think so.'

        'How was it?'

        Jason considered the question for a moment or so and then admitted, 'I feel…unfulfilled. Does that make sense to you?'

        'Complete sense. He's a Channel…a Farris Channel, but he's untrained, and his capacity has never been stretched, not like Jordan or Vidal. He could never match either of us. Did you control the transfer?'

        'What do you think?'

         For a brief moment the two Gens were silent. Then Jason whispered into the darkness, 'and what does Vidal do now?'

         'Laurie, I said, “what do you think he's going to do now”?' Jason suddenly asked in a loud voice.

        'Who? Vidal?'

        'No – him – the Farris Channel!'

        'Truthfully, I have no idea.' Laurie confessed, 'and care even less.'

        'He was frightened witless you know – which means he might decide to have us both murdered.' Jason stated. 'It really wouldn't surprise me, and it would be the easy answer as far as he's concerned. Destroy that which frightens you most. It's what our ancestors used to do with the Simes.'

        'Well let's hope that we're long gone from here before he decides to act one way or the other.'

        'I couldn't agree more.' Jason said fervently, and then swung his head around to stare at the door. 'Shen, I think he's coming back…'

        Both Gens held their breath and stared wide eyed as the door once again swung slowly open.

        'It seems we're too late.' Vidal's voice broke the silence as he zlinned the room and then strode over to his Companion. Quickly he removed the chains that bound him to the wall.

        'We'll worry about that later.' Jordan's voice came out of the darkness as he, too, released Laurie.

        'I'm sorry Vidal. Arik said we mustn't kill him. There was no other alternative.' Jason murmured as he rubbed his arms and legs, and then turned his attention to his sore head.

        'I'm not blaming you.' Vidal said quickly, 'the circumstances were out of your control. But it does complicate matters.'

        'That's an understatement if ever I heard one.' Jason said ironically.

        'Come, we must hurry. Arik is finding us another horse.'

        'Stealing one,' the Sectuib's voice said bluntly into the darkness.

        'Stealing? Yes, that is the correct term.' Vidal agreed wryly as he went on, 'just remember, we have no other alternative.'

        'No alternative – always – no alternative.' Jordan said quietly, 'that seems to be the order of the day doesn't it? I wonder how many more things we'll have to do simply because we have – no alternative.'

        'Quite a few before we leave this place.' Vidal said honestly.

        'Neither of you should have followed us through the portal.' Jordan said almost angrily.

        'And where would you be then?' Vidal snapped back, 'stuck here on this hellhole of a planet, that's where! At least we can still get back home when all this is resolved.'

        'Yes, you're right of course.' Jordan admitted at once feeling chagrined at his behaviour. 'I'm sorry. I really am. I don't mean to be ungrateful. Perhaps we should forget about Logram and make our way straight back to the portal?'

        'What!?' Vidal turned to stare at the Sectuib. 'After all we've gone through to find this cousin of yours, and now we're within tentacle reach of him and you talk about throwing in the towel? Like shen we'll do that.'

        Jordan sighed as he nodded acquiescence and then said to the two Gens, 'neither of you appear to be suffering from anything more than a few bruises. We'll tend to them when we stop for a break.'

        A short time later they were all on the trail, when Laurie called out from behind the Sectuib's back, 'where exactly are we making for?'


        Dawn was just breaking over the mountains in the distance when Vidal called a halt near an outcrop of rocks. Dismounting, they lead the three horses away from the trail.

        'What do you think he'll do?' Jason asked as he sat down and leaned his weary head against one of the huge rocks.

        'You mean Ryan Farris?'

        'If that's his name – then yes.'

        'I have no idea.' Jordan said as he and Vidal crouched down beside him. 'Tell us exactly what happened tonight,' he instructed.

        Jason did so, with Laurie adding bits that Jason had forgotten.

        Arik tended the horses, rubbing them down and inspecting their hooves while the four men talked quietly together.

        'He's going to want it again.' Jordan said as Jason came to the end of his narative.

        'Want what again?' Jason asked looking confused.

        'You – or someone like you. Once a Channel has had a Companion's transfer…' he shrugged his shoulders and glanced across at Vidal, who nodded his agreement.

        'But he can't have it again can he? There aren't any Companions here, not yet anyway,' Jason said flatly, 'and not likely to be if the Simes have their way.'

        'Not even a donor for that matter.' Laurie pointed out.

        'Which means that he is even more likely to come after the two of you,' the Sectuib said quietly. 'If only he had followed his mother's instructions and taken a homegrown Gen then this wouldn't have happened.'

        'But he didn't.' Vidal broke in to say. 'I hate to be a pessimist, but I think there's little doubt that Ryan is going to want both our Gens for himself. He'll do everything in his power to capture them again – simply because he knows that he isn't likely to find any more Gens like them anywhere else.'

        Jordan nodded. 'Yes. I agree with you. I think he's astute enough to realise that our two Gens are one offs – at least as far as this world is concerned; although he obviously has no idea why that should be.'

         'But he was really frightened of me.' Jason reminded the two Channels. 'It could be that he'll want to stay well away from us. Perhaps he's even glad that we've gone. After all, this way he doesn't have to confess what he's done to his mother. He can simply say that when he went to look for us we were gone. We escaped in the night – end of story.'

        Vidal glanced across at Jordan and the two men smiled at his naivety as Jordan said, 'unfortunately it doesn't work that way, Jason. I'm afraid you would have to be Sime – and quite possibly a Channel to know exactly what I'm saying. Since you're not, and therefore I can't explain it to you – just believe me when I tell you that Ryan Farris will come after you – both of you. Of that you can be as certain as the Sun rises tomorrow.'
'Great.' Jason said softly then frowned as he watched Vidal and Jordan whispering together in Simelan, 'hey, you two. It's rude to whisper in company.'
        Vidal turned back a slight smile playing around his lips. 'Sorry about that. I had an idea to discuss with the Sectuib.'

        'What idea is that?' Jason demanded suspiciously as Laurie moved closer to them.

        'If you recall, Jason, the reason I agreed to you coming here with me is obvious – transfer.'

        Jason stared at the Channel a frown on his forehead. 'So?'

        'So, through no fault of your own, you are no longer able to carry out that function.' He paused and then went on more hurriedly, 'I can see no reason why you should stay here in danger when you can return to the portal and wait back on Earth for us.'

        'If that's your notion of a good idea, it stinks! I have no intention whatsoever of abandoning all of you. Besides, how do you think I can walk all that way back to the portal without running into trouble?' He said, triumphantly.

        'He has a point.' Laurie murmured glancing at Jordan who nodded his head in agreement with his Companion.

        Vidal sighed. 'I admit I hadn't given much thought to your journey back to the portal. It would doubtless be fraught with danger but...'

        'Yes it would!' Jason said at once and began to ham it up as he went on, 'I'd be scared stiff trying to cover all that country on my own – with Simes hiding behind every rock. After all, I'm only a weak and helpless Gen and...'

        'All right. You can stop the melodrama. You've made your case.' Vidal informed him and then leaned closer to his partner as he said softly, 'but if you ever again try to convince me that you'd be frightened to go anywhere on your own – either here or on Earth – don't bother, because I won't believe it.'
        'I hate to bring this up, but now we're well clear of the Farris place I think you'd both better get the chains and shackles back on. We'll soon start running into travellers again and we don't want to cause any undue suspicion.' Vidal said as he attached one of the chains to the collar around Jason's neck.
        'I hate these things.' Laurie muttered as Jordan attached his chain to the Gen.

The Sectuib grinned as he jumped lightly to his feet and then offered a hand first to Laurie and then to Jason. 'I think we'd better be on our way. I can zlin some sort of movement on the trail behind us. It may have nothing to do with us at all, but then again we daren't take any chances.'

        Vidal walked over to one of the rocks and leaped lightly on top of it extending his tentacles as he did so. 'Yes, you're right. I can just zlin it now. I'd say it's about six possibly seven miles away – with six or more horses.'

        Moments later they set off once again.
        At midday they had to stop at one of the taverns to tend the horses.

        'I'm afraid from now on you'll both have to start walking again.' Vidal said with a sigh.

        Jason nodded his head in resignation. 'Don't remind me.'

        'Well at least we know that if they are pursuing us, they'll have to stop to rest their horses, too.' Laurie observed.

        'No they won't.'

        All four men stared across at the young renSime.

        'And what does that mean exactly?' Vidal asked. 'Surely their horses aren't any different than ours.'

        'No of course not. But if you're wealthy you pay to stable your own horses at post stops on all the main roads around the country. All they have to do is stop, change horses and be on their way again.'

        'Do they actually call these tracks “roads”?' Jason asked in surprise.

        'Shut up a minute Jason.' Vidal muttered as he turned to Jordan, 'now that I think about it – history tells how they used to do much the same thing on Earth back in the old days. If they could afford it. I should have remembered that.'
        'So should I,' the Sectuib admitted with a sigh. 'Well we can't do much about it now except get on our way as quickly as possible.'

        'We're not going to make much headway if we've got to walk.' Laurie pointed out.

        'I tend to agree with you. I think we'll have to take a chance on who we might meet and take both of them up on our horses. Can the pair of you eat on the move?' Jordan demanded looking from Laurie to Jason.

        'We'll both get indigestion, but I guess that's better than walking and getting caught by your relations.' Laurie grinned.

        The Sectuib frowned slightly and then nodded his head as he admitted, 'you know I never thought about that. But they are still Farris and they came from Earth in the distant past. So yes, I suppose they are family. It seems strange somehow – it's rather like meeting one's own ancestors.'

        'Arik, go into the tavern and ask if we're on the right road for Preston.' Vidal instructed.

        'Preston? I thought we decided to go to Boston,' Jordan said with a slight frown.

        Jason grinned as he realised what Vidal was doing. 'If we're being followed it won't take much figuring out for them to realise we'd probably make a stop about here to tend to the horses. So they might just stop here to ask about us. If they do, then the bartender is going to tell them that we asked about Preston isn't he? I know it won't take them long to realise that we aren't going to Preston at all. But it might just delay them for an hour or so.'

        The Sectuib smiled. 'Good thinking.'

        Laurie climbed up onto the back of the horse that Arik had procured for Jordan. 'You might have picked something a bit better than this,' he said to the renSime.

        'I wanted to, but they said not to.' Arik retorted at once, glowering across at the two Channels as he spoke.

        'Why'd you do that?' Jason demanded of Vidal.

        'I simply calculated that if we took an ordinary work horse, they were less likely to chase after us – rather than if we'd stolen some prime piece of horse flesh.' Vidal pointed out, 'mind you, I have to admit that at the time I didn't take into account the fact that you might have to give Ryan transfer and he'd be chasing after us – that would undoubtedly have changed my decision.'

        A few hours later the two Channels zlinned a gypsy encampment a few miles away. Turning their horses they headed in that direction, allowing the Gens to dismount before they slowed their pace – so that the two Gens could walk behind them once more.

        'The signpost back there said the road to Boston is in that direction.' Arik suddenly informed them.

        'Yes I realise that. Being gypsies they probably know of a different route. It's worth a try, and might just throw Ryan off our trail completely.'

        'Presuming it's him.' Laurie murmured, not quite convinced that they were indeed, being followed by the young Channel.

        'It is.' The Sectuib stated quietly. 'Unfortunately they're much closer now. I can zlin them clearly. I recognise Ryan's nager.'

        'Shen!' Jason turned to look back to the horizon, but could still see nothing at all.

        Reaching the encampment they found three wagons were drawn into a rough circle while three old horses and a couple of goats were tethered to one side. In the middle of the circle there was a fire and cooking pot.
        Several dogs and dirty looking children played on the muddy grass, while their mothers watched. The men all sat in a group, talking.

        The Channels stopped their horses within hailing distance of the camp as Vidal called out, 'we're heading for Boston but appear to have lost our way. Can you help?'

        After a few moments one of the older men walked towards them, and when Vidal and Jordan had climbed down, he began to give them directions, zlinning the two Gens as he did so.

        Jordan thanked him for his help and handed him a couple of groats which seemed to please the old man who pocketed them quickly, before he turned and walked back to the fire.

        The small party set off in the direction indicated by the gypsies. As expected the trail they were told to use followed the foothills of the Hollow Mountain range before it went around an outcrop of tall rocks and came out just a few miles short of Boston.

        It was late in the afternoon when the two Channels decided to call a halt. Jordan climbed up to a high vantage point to zlin the trail behind them.

        'I believe we're safe for the moment. There's no one within zlinning distance,' he said as he jumped down beside them. 'With any luck perhaps they won't bother to ask the gypsies if they've seen us – but will just make straight for Preston.'

        Both Gens breathed a sigh of relief as Jason asked, 'why was that old gypsy zlinning us so hard back there? I mean, we're hardly the first Gens he's ever seen are we?'

        'It must have seemed very strange to him. Two Gens – one high field and the other low.' Vidal reminded him.

        'What's so strange about that?'

        'You're forgetting where we are, Jason. On this world there are only two types of Gen. High field or dead. Low field just doesn't exist. Not unless you're just establishing.'

        'Of course.' Jason said. 'That's why Ryan was so frightened when he realised that he hadn't killed me.'

        'Exactly.' Vidal zlinned Jason thoroughly before he said, 'you know, he appears to have taken about as much selyn as an average First would take, but nowhere near what one would expect from a Farris.'

        'You have to remember that he's only three months from changeover – and he's also untrained and undisciplined,' the Sectuib retorted. 'On top of which he's junct, quite a combination.'

        'Jason controlled the transfer throughout,' Laurie pointed out.

        'That was the sensible thing to do.' Jordan said. 'I doubt you had much difficulty in controlling him, did you?'

        'None whatever.' Jason confessed. 'But I didn't get any…satisfaction either.'

        The Sectuib smiled across at the Gen as he said bluntly, 'he didn't take enough selyn from you for that.'

        'Perhaps not, but it's thrown me completely out of synch with Vidal.'

        'That shouldn't prove too much of a problem,' Jordan said, glancing at his two friends.

        'Not a problem – how do you work that out?' Jason asked at once.

        'Well you have two choices as far as I can see. Vidal can take a donation from you on what would have been your normal transfer day, or he can just leave you, which means you will be more than ready for him next time.'

        'What do you think Vidal?' Jason asked with a grimace as he glanced across at his partner.

        'I tend to agree with the Sectuib's analysis.' Vidal stated.
        'So do I. But I would like to make one proviso if I may,' Jason said looking at Jordan. 'Vidal served young Arik during our escape from the Castle, and sometime after that he had a nasty turn with entran.'

'I was grateful to have both Laurie and Jason there to help me.' Vidal confessed at once.

Jordan nodded slowly. 'Of course. I was forgetting that you usually keep yourself dormant, and that being so it would be preferable if I take Jason's donation and not you. With Laurie close by I have virtually no problem with entran, even when I'm not working.'

Vidal smiled as he conceded, 'you've always been a much better Channel than I will ever be.'

        Jordan returned his friend's smile and then said quietly, 'since we're discussing all this now, perhaps we should decide what we're going to do as far as your transfer is concerned. It's only a day away for both of us, and we have only one Gen between us.' he pointed out bluntly.

        'If we can complete our business within the next day or so, I should be able to wait until we return home.' Vidal smiled wryly, 'you know, when I discuss things like this with my analyst, she always tells me that the self imposed discipline is good for me…says it will make me a better Channel.'

        'If you were a working Channel I might agree with her, but you're not.'

        'Jordan, I may not be able to do all the functionals and other fancy things that you can do, but believe me when I say that a couple of days waiting for a transfer…well…I'd be a liar if I said it would be easy. But I can manage it.'

        'And if we don't complete things within that time limit – or something else goes wrong? What then?' The Sectuib demanded.

        'I'll face that when it happens.'

        'Now that's just foolhardy – and you know it. As a matter of fact, I have been considering giving Laurence to you this time.'

        'Don't be ridiculous! How would that help? It would just mean you suffering instead of me. How does that improve matters? '

        Jordan sighed. 'Very well, then I have one other suggestion that I know you're not going to like – but please, consider it before you dismiss it out of hand.'

        'And that is?'

        'You take transfer from me.'

        The two Channels stared at each other. One with determination, and the other in shock.
        The two Gens had been listening to the conversation between the Channels. Jason opened his mouth to speak, only to have Laurie touch his arm and shake his head as he whispered, 'this is between them, Jason. Let them talk.'

        Vidal took a deep breath before he said, 'do you realise what you're suggesting? Your capacity and mine are almost the same. There's probably only a dynopter or so in it. I could burn you badly, Jordan. On top of that you're the Sectuib in Zeor for shen's sake. I can't let you take that risk, and I won't.'

        'I've thought about all the ramifications, and I don't believe that the risks are all that high. Although I agree with all you've said. However, you have put your finger on something very important in this equation: I am the Sectuib in Zeor. I have been trained from childhood to handle crises like this. I know I can do this.' Jordan hesitated and then went on, 'I have only one question to ask you, Vidal…do you trust me?'


        'Then… it's settled.'

        'Before we agree that it's settled, suppose you tell me exactly what you intend.' Vidal murmured urgently.

        'Answer a question for me first. How much spare selyn do you carry at this moment in your secondary system, allowing for the fact that you keep yourself as near dormancy as possible?'

        'About a quarter. Perhaps a few dynopters over that.' Vidal replied, and then explained, 'but we have to remember that I did serve Arik, although the amount expended was…infinitesimal.'

        Jordan nodded his head before he said, 'normally when I'm working at Zeor my secondary system is full. However, when I am not working – like now, then in accordance with Zeor tradition I carry around three quarters of that full capacity. Maybe a small amount over that. So this is what I suggest…

        'First I shall take my normal transfer from Laurie. Second I shall take a donation from you. Quite honestly I don't think a shunt from my primary to my secondary system will be necessary, but if it is…' he shrugged before he went on. 'Then I shall serve you – and finally take a donation from Jason, which should bring him back into synch with you.'

        'And, after all that, your secondary system may still be dangerously low. I'm used to carrying only small amounts of selyn in my secondary system – you are not. ' Vidal pointed out at once. 'Have you considered the effect of that?'

        'Yes, and I believe I can cope with it.' The Sectuib smiled at his friend. 'If you can come up with a better solution I shall be pleased to listen to it. In the meantime we will go with my suggestion – agreed?'

        'Agreed, but under protest.' Vidal said with a sigh.

        'Yes of course – under protest.' He studied his friend's face and nager for a moment or two before he said, 'stop worrying Vidal. Neither of us will enjoy this, but at least we'll live through it.'

        They settled down for the night in the foothills of the mountains under an outcrop of rock. All three Simes took a turn on watch while the two Gens slept.

        It was in the early hours just before dawn when Jordan shook the two Gens awake. 'Get up quickly. I believe our pursuers are only a few miles away.'

        They all scrambled into their boots and loaded up the horses.

        'It looks as though the gypsies told them which route we took.' Jason murmured sleepily.

        'It looks that way.' Vidal conceded.

        Laurie laughed but without any real humour as he said, 'perhaps our “strange” Gen was too much for him.'

        'More than that. I think Farris money probably did the talking as far as our gypsy friend was concerned.' Jordan murmured as he settled himself onto his horse.

        'What do you think? Shall we stay on this route to Boston or not?' Vidal demanded as he looked across at the Sectuib.

        'Since we either have to go to Boston or abandon the idea altogether and head for the portal, we don't have all that much choice.' Jason pointed out.

        'True. So, one last throw of the dice – Boston it is.' Vidal said.

        'Boston it is.' Jordon agreed.

'We'll have to hope that there's a suitable place to hide when we get there.' Laurie said looking back over his shoulder at the trail winding behind them as they set off.

Unfortunately their progress was slower than they would have liked, simply because they had to be careful not to make any of the horses lame. They could only hope that their pursuers were governed by the same considerations.

'I don't know about Laurie but I've got to ask – when do we eat?' Jason said with a sigh.

        'You know if we go much slower we're going to get caught.' Arik informed them with a snort.

        'So what do you suggest we do?' Laurie asked sarcastically. 'Get down and carry the horses, perhaps?'
        'Wait a minute Laurie, he's right.' Jason said. As Laurie opened his mouth to argue he said, 'I don't mean we carry the horses you idiot; but we could try hiding up there somewhere while they go on by. Then when they don't find us they'll either think we bribed the gypsy to give them the wrong information, or we've made much better time than them and have already reached Boston.'
        'It's not a bad idea.' Vidal admitted. 'Arik is right, you know. We're bound to get caught if we continue as we are.'

        'I was thinking the same thing myself.' The Sectuib admitted as he stood up on his mare's back and zlinned the mountains to the side of them. 'There's a narrow trail that leads off to the left and then goes more or less straight up just over there. We could give it a try.' He looked around at his friends, his eyebrows raised, as they nodded their agreement to the plan.

        Arik and the two Gens, each leading one of the horses, set off up the track. While Vidal and Jordan moved as many rocks and boulders as they could manage into position to hide the fact that there was a track there at all, or indeed that three horses had quite recently passed that way. Finally, satisfied that they had done as much as they could, they quickly scrambled up the track behind the others.

        Jason had just decided that the trail must go on forever, when it opened out onto a small plateau. Tethering the horses at the far side of the open area the two Gens lay down on the hard rock with a sigh of relief.

        After a moment or two Jason fetched one of the baskets and handed Laurie some of the honey loaf Vidal had procured from the hostel. Glancing across at young Arik he offered him a piece of the bread and was surprised when he came and took it. 'Vidal said that if I want to stay healthy, I should eat something each day,' he informed them.

        'Yes, and he's right, too.' Laurie said and then smiled as the two Channels came into view. 'Here they come.'

        Jordan and Vidal came and sat down beside them.

'Everyone keep well away from the edge.' Jordan warned. 'If they zlin any movement at all up here they're going to come and investigate. And that includes you young Arik.'

        The renSime swallowed a mouthful of bread and nodded his head in agreement.

Jordan grinned, 'taking my advice I see.' Then looking over at Jason he asked. 'Is there enough left for Vidal and I to have a bite?'

        'Plenty; help yourselves.'

        'You won't be able to zlin them down there. So how are we going to know when they've gone on by?' Laurie asked as he brushed the crumbs from his knee.

        'With any luck we should be able to hear them.' Vidal replied.

        'Just remember that if we can hear them, they'll be able to hear us, so complete silence everyone.' The Sectuib reminded them and then went on, 'and I want both Jason and Laurie lying between Vidal and I so that we can hide your nagers, just in case.'

'Okay.' The two Gens lay back down and closed their eyes as Arik crept to the far edge of the plateau and stood by the three horses in case they should try to whinny to the other horses down below.

        A little less than an hour later they all heard the sounds as the horses and their Sime riders passed along the mountain trail far below them. Thankfully, as far as they could ascertain, none of the horses stopped or even hesitated as they trotted on by.

        'How long before we make a move?' Laurie asked stifling another yawn.

        Jason grinned, 'You know it would be funny if they get to Boston and decide they've really lost us this time; and then turn around and come back this way…' he laughed out loud as he went on, 'and we come face to face with them!'

        'Oh yes I'm sure it would be shenning well hilarious.' Laurie snapped back, as Jordan bit his lip to stop himself from chuckling – while Vidal who knew his partner and his strange sense of humour only too well, merely shook his head. Arik, meanwhile, was still trying to understand the behaviour of the strange men he had inadvertently fallen in with.
        'Oh, come on, lighten up. You're a long time dead. You must see how funny it would be?' Jason grinned, and then looking from face to face he sighed and stood up to stretch the kinks out of his arms and legs, as he muttered, 'no sense of humour, that's your trouble.'

        'Relax, Jason we're not going anywhere just yet.' Jordan informed him with a wry grin. 'In fact I think we could do far worse than spend the night up here. It would give them time to get as far as Boston and perhaps realise that we're not there. Everyone agreed?'

        Jason strolled over to the edge of the plateau and glanced down at the trail as he wondered if it might also give them time to turn back from Boston and retrace their journey along the trail. After all there would be no Gens with them, and Simes did not really have to break their journey to either eat or sleep. With a silent sigh he pushed the unwelcome thoughts firmly to one side, and walked back across to sit down beside Vidal.


        In the predawn hours Jordan decided to climb to the top of the highest vantage point, near to where they were camped. Reaching the top, he then extended his tentacles and zlinned the surrounding peaks and valleys for any trace of Ryan and his men – just in case they were hiding nearby which was a contingency he had to consider.

After a few minutes, satisfied that as far as he was able to ascertain they were now alone in this part of the mountains, he scrambled back down again; and a short while later they all set off back down the narrow trail.

Thankfully Jason's fears did not come to fruition, and long before midday the small party left the sanctuary of the foothills and turned inland onced more. In a short space of time they were within zlinning distance of the small town of Boston.

'There's a tavern a mile or so up the road.' Vidal observed. 'I suggest we book a room and leave Jason and Laurie there in young Arik's care – while you and I scout around Boston.'

Before the two Gens could make any objections to this proposal, Jordan held up a tentacle. 'In principle I agree with you Vidal,' he said quietly, 'but in this instance, perhaps it would be better if all four of us stay at the tavern while Arik goes into town.'

'Why?' Vidal asked at once.

'Because I'm already well known to Ryan, and we can't be certain that he didn't notice me talking to you at the Farm. While young Arik here is less likely to have been seen or noticed. No disrespect, Arik. I merely state a fact.' He paused and then went on, 'on top of that he's not likely to draw attention to himself. Who will take any notice of a young renSime wandering the streets, among so many others who will be doing exactly the same thing?

'All he has to find out is – does anyone know when Logram is expected to speak in Boston town square? For the moment we will call him Logram since we don't know if it is him or not. Hopefully, there may even be notices posted up about the event. But if not, I'm sure Arik is up to the task of asking around to ascertain if anyone has heard of such a meeting, without arousing undue suspicion.' Jordan turned to look at the renSime one eyebrow raised in query.

'Yeah, I can do that.'

The others quickly agreed with the Sectuib's suggestion. Within a short space of time Arik was on his way, while the remainder of the party made their way to the tavern.

'Of course, we mustn't forget that we're relying completely on the military's assessment that Boston is the next town Logram will visit.' Vidal pointed out as they entered the small cramped room. Laurie walked over to open the equally small window.

'True, and that's another stumbling block. If the military are out in force it may well scare Logram away.' Jordan pointed out.

'Surely they won't march around the streets in uniform? They wouldn't be that stupid would they?' Jason said at once.

Laurie turned from the window. 'I would imagine they'll have one or two of their men in everyday clothes mingling with the crowds. Nothing more than that. Unless they're complete cretins of course.'

Jordan grinned. 'According to Ryan and his brother, Dermott, that's exactly what they are – complete cretins.'

'Well, let's hope they're wrong.' Vidal said fervently.

'Does anyone else wonder whether we're wise to trust Arik so completely?' Jason suddenly demanded.

Vidal rubbed his eyes with his tentacles before he said, 'I think so. Remember he has no love for the military. After all, it was the military that sentenced him to death by attrition back at the Castle. And it was us that got him out of there.'

'And his attitude has changed slightly.' Laurie pointed out. 'On occasion he actually acknowledges our existence.'

'Only when he forgets who he's talking to.' Jason said with a wry smile.

'It's not really his fault.' Jordan defended at once. 'Try to remember. He was brought up on this planet where, through necessity, Gens are thought to be on the same social level as cattle! Then along we come and expect his attitude to change overnight. It's not going to happen. The fact that he is even prepared to address you at all is a huge step forward for him from his standpoint. It's on a par with you or Laurie being polite to a cow!'

Jason laughed softly as he observed, 'to be truthful I've met several people on Earth who would fit right in here.'

Vidal nodded his head in agreement as he murmured, 'I'm sorry to say that my father's name would probably top your list. Am I correct?'

'Oh… I don't think he's all that bad.' Jason murmured straight away.

The two Channels laughed out loud as they both read the insincerity in the Gen's nager. Laurie smiled ruefully across at his fellow Gen as he said, 'I learned a long time ago. Don't try to be polite by telling a white lie. They catch you out every shenning time, no matter how subtle you are.'

'I know that, and I still keep forgetting.' Jason admitted honestly as he walked to the window and looked out. 'I wonder how much longer Arik is going to be.'

        'Patience, he's only been gone an hour.' Vidal informed him. 'And stay away from the window. If anyone is zlinning in this direction they may begin to wonder why you and Laurie have the freedom to walk around, when you should be fastened to the wall over there.'

The Gen sighed out loud as he complied with the request. 'I don't think I'll ever get used to all these restrictions,' and he lay down on the bed and then chuckled as he rolled down into the middle. 'Shen! This one sags worse than the last one did,' he said as he clawed his way to the edge of the bed where he hung onto the wooden frame and stared at his three friends in frustration. 'It might be better if we put the mattress on the floor tonight,' with which comment, they all silently agreed.

The two Gens were sleeping soundly when Arik returned and the Channels quickly let him into the room, and then listened anxiously to his report.

He had learned that the following day was market day in Boston when everything including fruit vegetables and household wares was up for sale, while the day after that was stock market day.

On this day the farmers brought horses, cows, and chickens – including eggs to town to sell. Also, on this day, young entrepreneurial Simes who had managed to catch a few wild Gens, brought them to town to either sell directly to the public or to auction them, usually to farmers, who used them first and foremost to work their farms, and who later in the season killed them. Occasionally they were sold or auctioned to more wealthy individuals who just wanted a prime kill.

'I'm surprised such a small town like Boston can support a stock market,' Jordan mused thoughtfully.

'They don't. Apparently people come here from all the surrounding towns to buy and sell. The levy placed on the sales by the town is far less than in the other major towns, which is why it's so popular.' The renSime informed them.

'Did you find out if anyone proposed using the occasion to speak to the crowds?' Vidal asked.

'No one is talking about it,' he shrugged his thin shoulders before he went on. 'I spotted a lot of Simes who could have been the Home Guard just walking around aimlessly, but I may have been mistaken.'

'And Ryan…did you spot him?'


'If he's not on the streets, then he and his party must have booked in somewhere.' Vidal observed, 'unless he's given up and returned home.'

'I can't imagine him doing that.' Jordan said with conviction.

'There's only one place that someone like him would stay,' Arik stated, 'the Golden Sands Hotel near the centre of Boston.'

Jordan nodded and then advised the young renSime to rest for an hour or so while he and Vidal discussed their next move.

'There's something else,' young Arik said as he pulled a scruffy looking piece of paper out of his pocket.

'What's it say?' Vidal asked at once.

'How do I know? I can't read.' He said as he offered it to Jordan who sat nearest to him. 'But notices like this were stuck up all over the place, which is why I grabbed one.'

Jordon grasped it in his tentacles and read outloud:


'Strewth I never thought he'd go this far,' Vidal gasped.

'I did.' Jordan replied. 'He's a Farris Channel, who has never before had a transfer from a Companion like Jason…what did you expect?'

'It seems that he's desperate to try it again with one of them,' Vidal acknowledged softly.

'Exactly,' the Sectuib turned to the renSime, 'you've done very well Arik. Thank you.'

The youth lay down on the hard floor without complain't, more used to the hardships of life than any of the other men in the room.

'In light of this,' and he indicated the notice – 'what do you suggest we do?' Vidal asked sotto voce.

'Much as I don't like the idea, we'll have to split up. One of us can go to the general market tomorrow and the other to the stock market on the following day. That way we're less likely to be spotted by anyone. Jason, Laurie and Arik will remain here in any event.'

Vidal shook his head. 'Perhaps Arik should go with each of us on both days.' He suggested. 'Then if anything goes drastically wrong, he can at least come back and warn the others.'

Jordan nodded. 'Good thinking. We'll do that.'

When the two Gens woke up the next morning it was to find that Vidal and Arik had already left for Boston town centre.

Then while they all ate their meagre breakfast of bread and honey, Jordan filled them in on Arik's news while showing them the reward notice.

'Here, you should eat something, too,' Laurie said as he pushed a piece of bread towards the Channel.

'No thanks. I had one of those blue stripy things earlier.' Jordan protested as he pushed the bread back to the Gen.

'I know they're blue striped instead of red or yellow, but I think they're supposed to be plums. They certainly taste like plums,' Jason informed everyone as he licked the honey off his fingers.

'So what are we going to do today?' Laurie asked as he helped Jason move the food off the bed and then sat down again, his back against the wall.

'We wait for Vidal and Arik to return.' Jordan said from his position near the window.

The two Gens sighed in unison as Jason muttered, 'another wasted day.'

'Hardly wasted,' Jordan protested. 'We are all warm dry and more importantly – safe. It also gives the two of you a chance to rest. Things could be a whole lot worse.'

Laurie smiled at his partner. 'We aren't arguing with that,' he said at once, 'but sitting here for a whole day doing absolutely nothing goes very much against the grain.'

'I can understand that.' Jordan agreed as he glanced towards Jason and said, 'why don't you fill us in on everything you and Vidal have done since you got our letter.'

'I thought Vidal had already told you.'

'Hardly, at best he gave me only a sketchy outline. We hardly had time for him to go into much detail.' Jordan confessed with a wry grin.

'Okay,' Jason moved to sit next to Laurie on the bed before he began his narration. When he got to the part where he told them that they had found the dead Gen back on Earth in the portal room; both Jordan and Laurie denied that the body had been there when they went through.

'Which means he obviously came through after you.' Jason murmured, 'another mystery. So many questions and no shenning answers.'

Later that morning he fell into a restless sleep only to wake and find Laurie doing push-ups on the floor, while Jordan stood looking out of the window obviously deep in thought.

'Where the shen do you find the energy to do that?' He demanded as he stifled a yawn and swung his feet to the floor.

'Ninety nine, one hundred.' Laurie collapsed on to the threadbare carpet as he replied, 'it uses up some of my excess energy. You should try it some time.'

'No thanks, watching you is exercise enough.' He glanced across at the Sectuib as he went on with a wry grin, 'I don't see Jordan joining you. I reckon he agrees with me.'

The Channel turned and smiled at the two Gens. 'I think this is one argument I will keep well away from,' he stated, as he moved to sit on the only chair that the room possessed.

'Have you thought about what we're going to do if this fellow we're chasing does turn out to be your cousin, and he doesn't want to return with us? It could happen, you know.'

Jordan frowned slightly and then said slowly, 'it's a fair question; and to be honest with you Laurie, I have no idea. I suppose it will depend very much on why he would want to remain here, and not return home.'

'I'd say that anyone who wanted to stay here voluntarily has got to be crazy!' Jason broke in to say, 'and if he's certifiable, then we should drag him back forcibly and hand him over to the Tecton. Let them treat him.' He paused a moment and then asked, 'or don't the Tecton deal with nut cases like him?'

Jordan gave a bark of laughter, 'would that it was that easy,' he confessed. 'The trouble is there is nothing really wrong with Logram, and wanting to stay here and not go home with us could hardly be called certifiable, could it? Oh I know you would argue the point Jason, but I don't think anyone else would.'

'I met him once you know,' Laurie suddenly said, as Jordan sat up and turned to stare across at his Companion.

'When was that?' He demanded to know.

'Oh several years back now when I was working in the archives. I had a spare evening and went to one of his history lectures.'

'And?' Jason pressed as his fellow Gen fell silent as he remembered back to that time, 'what was he like, and I don't mean his looks.'

'A bit dry like most history professors tend to be. Not the sort of person you'd pick easily for a friend. Sorry, Jordan,' he murmured as he glanced across at his partner.

'No apology necessary, so far I agree with your assessment. Carry on.'

'Well there isn't much more to tell. Except he struck me as someone who believed completely in himself and his ideas.' Laurie frowned slightly as he said. 'I got the impression that even if all the evidence pointed one way, but he took the opposite point of view, then he'd believe he was right, come what may.'

Jordan chuckled softly, 'I couldn't have put it better myself. Vidal met him once and took an instant dislike to him – unusual for someone like Vidal. Amongst other things he called him pompous and arrogant as I recall.' He sighed, 'which is another reason we cannot just “drag him back.” If we did attempt to do so, he would doubtless tell everyone about the portal.'

'And what use would that do him? If anyone went to look for it to verify his story, it wouldn't be there any more because we would have collapsed the entrance to the wormhole.' Jason pointed out.

'They'd still find the cave and the entrance inside. They might even find some residue of the explosive used. On top of that we don't know what other evidence he might have found prior to using the portal. After all, he definitely found something or he would never have known about the portal in the first place – because my father didn't tell anyone but me.' The Sectuib stated.

'But would any of that matter in the long run?' Laurie asked.

'Yes it would. As Sectuib in Zeor I could argue that I considered it not in the interest of Zeor or the Householdings to tell anyone of the existence of the portal – and I might just get away with that. But I also work for the Tecton. Can you imagine what the higher echelon there would have to say if it could be proved that not only had I known of the portal, but I had then taken it upon myself to destroy it?'

'From their point of view it would be an arrogant move on my part. Indeed, many of the Tecton hierarcy already view Householders with suspicion – they've done so for many many years – and especially members of Zeor since we are considered to be the main Householding. They would never trust me or them again.'

Lunch consisted of the remainder of the bread and several sky blue and white striped plums, during which the two Gens described their favourite menu to each other, while Jordan listened in indulgent silence.

It was in the early afternoon that Jason told the Sectuib about Ian, his younger brother, who had killed in first need.

'I'm so sorry. I don't think we will ever be able to say categorically that such things will never happen again – because unfortunately – they will.' The Channel admitted sadly. 'The Earth is so big and there are many billions of people and no matter how careful we are there will always be someone who slips through the net. All we can do is educate even more and hope for the best.'

'Maybe if everyone belonged to a Householding these things wouldn't happen.' Jason wondered out loud.

'Don't you believe it.' Laurie said at once. 'Perhaps they don't happen quite so frequently, but they do happen – right Sectuib?'

'Unfortunately Laurence is correct. Although the last time it happened in Zeor was almost a decade ago now – but it still happened; and in more recent years I have heard of similar cases in at least three other Householdings. There can never be guarantees. However, as far as Ian is concerned I will do everything in my power to help him. They're sending him to Mars, you say?'

Jason nodded.

'When and if we get back home, I'll get in touch with Rior and see what I can do. With any luck they may accept him into their House. But of course I can make no promises.'

'I realise that,' Jason said at once and then went on, 'but whatever you can do…I'll be grateful.'

'Even if Rior will not take him, then rest assured that I will try every other avenue open to us.' Jordan stated.

'Thanks, I know you will.'

'Changing the conversation entirely if I may,' Laurie murmured. 'I know that this planet has not developed along the same lines as Earth, but there must be some similarities…'

Jordan nodded his head in agreement. 'Absolutely.'

'That being so, how the shen did Householdings like Zeor, Imil, and so many others get started on Earth in the first place – and yet not even the smell of a householding on this world?' Laurie demanded. 'I read about Rimon Farris of course, but that doesn't explain everything – far from it – and even though I spent so much time in the archives, I was never able to find any text that was definitive about how lots of things on Earth first came about; and I'm referring to the very beginning, before the time of chaos.'

'And I doubt you will ever find anything,' the Channel admitted. 'Consider, in the very beginning when Simes first appeared amongst the general population. Can you imagine the sheer chaos that event must have engendered? The whole fabric of society would have broken down – so much so that I doubt if anyone in those early years even bothered to record events.

'Indeed, in many respects we are extremely lucky to know as much about it as we do, especially since so many of our earliest books, texts and reports have been lost or gone missing over the years, due to circumstances beyond our control.'

'I was told that there are a lot of books that were taken from the archives and were never returned,' Laurie stated.

'Yes. My father once told me that he had estimated that almost a fifth of Zeor's books were at one time borrowed by other Householdings over the years, and many of them were never returned.' The Sectuib said, and then went on. 'I have often thought that when I retire I might begin a search for those books so that we can catalogue everything under one roof. It would be time consuming of course, but well worth the effort.'

'But going back to your other query about this planet – like the people of Earth, I doubt if anyone alive today on this world knows the answer to any of your questions.'

'Yes. I suppose you're right. Hey, did I hear you right Jordan – did you say – “when you retire you want to look for the books”?' Laurie suddenly said with a wry grin. 'That means it'll never happen.'

'You know, you're very cynical for someone so young.' Jordan replied with an answering grin.

'Cynical maybe, but it doesn't mean I'm not speaking the truth, does it?'

Jordan looked fondly at his Companion as he agreed, 'yes, you are undoubtedly speaking the truth – as you see it.'

Jason laughed out loud, 'it doesn't really matter what you think Laurie. Because being involved in the type of work that we are – I can almost guarantee that none of us will die in our own beds with our boots on.' He yawned loudly and then asked, 'what's the time Jordan? Shouldn't they be back by now?'

An hour and a half later Vidal returned, alone.

'I take it that Arik isn't back yet?' He asked at once, zlinning the small room as he entered.

Jordan shook his head in negation.

'I expected him to be back before me.' Vidal said with a sigh as he dropped a paper bag he was carrying onto the floor, and sat down in the chair that Jordan had vacated for him. 'As far as I'm concerned I'd say my day was an utter waste of time.'

        'I hope you've brought something good to eat.' Jason said as he opened the bag and looked inside.

        'I believe so. For such a small town the market was surprisingly large.' Vidal replied. 'But there were a lot of people from other towns milling around. I guess they like to make a day of it. It was all rather festive.'

        'But no sign of Logram or Ryan.' Jordan murmured.

        'Logram no – but when we walked past the hotel I zlinned Ryan inside the main foyer. I don't know whether he was just leaving to go somewhere, or had recently returned. So I left young Arik to keep an eye on events and report back here, later.'

        'How long ago did you leave him?' Laurie asked as he watched Jason placing different foods onto the floor beside the bag.

        'Four hours.' Vidal said without hesitation. 'He should have been back ages ago.'

        'Maybe Ryan and his entourage left the hotel and young Arik decided to follow them,' Jason suggested and then glancing across at his fellow Gen informed him, 'hard and soft cheese, fruit loaf, a jar of pickle, some nuts – and what's this for shen's sake, a slicing sausage?' He raised his brows in query as he looked up at Vidal.

        'A local delicacy, or so I'm told; it's made from beans and other vegetables, wrapped in vine leaves and roasted in the oven.'

        'It sounds all right, and I'm hungry enough to try anything once.' Jason admitted as he and Laurie began to share some of the food between them, while handing a slice of fruit loaf spread with soft cheese to each of the Channels.

        'Don't argue, just eat.' Jason advised Vidal who had opened his mouth to protest.

        Jordan bit back a smile as he used Laurie's appetite to whet his own.

        'So what are we going to do about Arik?' Jason asked as he swallowed his second slice of sausage. 'That's not bad, you know.'

        'There isn't much we can do.' Vidal admitted as he chewed the fruit loaf with obvious relish. 'I went past the Golden Sands on my way back here, and he wasn't where I'd left him – which is why I expected to find him waiting for me.'

        'I hope he hasn't gone to collect the reward!' Jason said cynically giving a short laugh.

        'I trust you're wrong.' The Sectuib said at once as he glanced across at the other Channel.

        'I have never zlinned any complicity in him.'

        'Neither have I.' Jordan acknowledged quickly.

        'Well let's hope you're both right. If not, then the next thing you'll both zlin, may well be Ryan and the military galloping up to our door.' Jason pointed out as he packed the remainder of the food back into the bag.

        'What are you doing now?' Vidal asked as the Gen began to pull on his boots.

        'Until young Arik the Great returns from wherever it is that he's gone – Then I intend to be ready to run at a moment's notice. I have no intention of becoming one of Ryan's pet Gens, not if I can help it. What do you say Laurie?'

        The other Gen merely grinned as he, too, began to pull on his boots.

        'I really don't think that there is any reason to panic,' the Sectuib murmured as he walked to the open window and zlinned the surrounding area. 'There's no one out there.'

        'Good. Let's hope it stays that way.' Laurie said as he joined his fellow Gen on the bed.


        It was in the early hours of the morning that Arik the Great finally returned.

        'Where the shen have you been till now?' Jason demanded at once.

        Vidal scowled across at him and signalled with a tentacle for him to remain silent, as he turned to the young renSime and said soothingly, 'we were getting worried, are you all right?'

        'Yes. I followed Ryan and his party out of Boston. They went to the military outpost outside Preston.'

        'That's a long ride.' Vidal murmured.
'Yes. But not having the Gens with me I was able to take the straight route so I could make good time galloping in both directions.'
        'Your horse must be exhausted.' Jordan said.

        'Not really, I swopped it for another.'

Deciding not to question the young renSime further about the horse, Jordan then asked. 'Were you able to find out why they went there?'

        'I got talking to a couple of the new recruits.' He paused to drink the water that Laurie handed to him, and then went on, 'they've arrested the troublemaker – caught him on his way to Boston.'

        'That's bad luck.' All four men leaned forward eagerly as Jordan went on, 'did they mention his name?'

        'The guards called him “Sylvester”.'

        'So we've been following the wrong man.' Jason said with resignation.

        'Maybe not,' the Sectuib said at once, contradicting him as he turned to Laurie. 'As I recall Logram's mother was a Gen who didn't belong to any House and her name before she married Logram's father was Sylvester. It must be him.'

        'So what do we do now?' Laurie asked as he looked around at his circle of friends.

        'One of us will have to go to the outpost and see if there's any chance of our breaking into the place.' Jason stated.

        'Won't do you any good even if you can get inside.' Arik informed them at once.

        'Why's that?' Laurie demanded to know.

        'They moved him out of there a few hours ago.'

        'Do you know where they've taken him?' Vidal asked quickly.

        'According to the guard I was talking to they're taking him to the main garrison at Whetherby. The young Sime said at once. 'He's wanted by too many town councils, and they're all claiming jur...juris…'

        'Jurisdiction over him?' Vidal suggested.

        'Yeah that's right. So the military are taking charge. The guards reckon that he'll be sentenced to death by attrition, and they'll put him on display as a warning to other troublemakers.'

        'Not exactly the home of free speech is it?' Jason asked ironically.

        'No it isn't. So where will he be exhibited?' Vidal asked distastefully.

        'Preston, of course. It's the biggest town in these parts.' Arik stated.

        'Well at least from our point of view, it's going to be easier to initiate an escape from Preston. Rather than try to free him from the garrison at Whetherby,' the Sectuib murmured thoughtfully, and the others agreed with him.

        'But that doesn't explain why Ryan went to visit the outpost does it?' Jason pointed out. 'I can't think of any reason why he'd be interested in finding Logram or Sylvester or whatever his name is. After all Ryan doesn't know of our connection to him, does he?'

        'It could be that Ryan simply went to ask for the Home Guard's help in finding us.' Laurie pointed out. 'After all, from what we've already learned, the military take more bribes than anyone else on this planet.'

        'I'm wondering just how long we'll have to wait for them to put Logram on trial at the Whetherby garrison, before they take him to Preston.' Vidal stated.

         'He's on trial this morning.' Arik supplied the answer none of them were expecting.

        'Why so quick?' Jason asked at once.

        'He's only a day or so away from need, that's why,' the young Sime told them bluntly. 'And they won't want to keep him till next month because that would mean wasting a Gen on him. So he'll be tried and sentenced today, and they'll have him on display tomorrow.'

        'Shen and shid – it sounds like they've already decided that he's guility! Why bother with a trial at all? What a place this is.' Laurie murmured in disgust.

        Jason nodded his agreement as he said, 'of course again from our point of view it's not such a bad thing that they're moving things along at a fair pace. At least we don't have to waste another month waiting around before we can try for a rescue.'
        Vidal laughed harshly, 'it's more than just a good thing from our point of view, Jason. Are you forgetting that the balloon quite literally goes up for us in just under three weeks' time?'
        Jason stared at his partner as he said in a stunned voice, 'you're right, you know. I never even gave that a thought!'

        'I take it that you're referring to the portal being blown up?' Jordan asked, and as Vidal nodded his agreement he went on, 'exactly how long have we got?

        'Working to Earth time – twenty days, although I would rather we call it nineteen, just to be on the safe side.' Jason murmured.

        'Nineteen it is then.' The Sectuib agreed.

        Jason glanced across at Arik as he asked, 'So where in Preston will they put him on display?'

        'They'll want to get as many people as possible to watch, so it'll be in the main square,' the young Sime said with authority. 'They'll probably charge folks to see his last few hours.'

        'Charge!?' Jordan said as they all looked appalled.

The young Sime grinned at him and said, 'everyone wants to be there for the end. Sometimes families come along and bring a picnic. So they have to charge a fee to keep the crowds down.'

'Just when I thought that this place couldn't possibly get any worse…' Laurie murmured.

'…then it does!' Jason finished the sentence for him as he looked across at the two Channels. 'What do you think about it?'

Vidal shook his head sadly as he said, 'I'd rather not say.'

Jordan cleared his throat. 'I think we should all make our way back to Preston now and find somewhere local to stay – it's not very far from here.' He glanced across to the window, 'it's almost dawn. With luck we can book ourselves into somewhere close to town and hopefully get a good look at the square during the day before they fetch Logram there.'

'I agree. If we're going to plan an escape then we have to make our move as soon as possible.' Vidal said at once.

Within the hour they were on their way to Preston – and as dawn was only just breaking and not many people were moving around the two Channels took the chance of taking the two Gens up in front of them on their horses for extra warmth; and both Gens were glad that they had at least been able to sleep during the previous day.

They made good time, till Jordan zlinned a patrol up ahead and the two Gens climbed down from the backs of the horses and began to walk – everyone falling silent because sound could carry quite some distance at night.

'Jason hasn't got his shackles on.' Arik suddenly hissed, and Vidal quickly found them on top of the food basket and tossed them down to the Gen, who slipped them over his wrists and ankles.

'Sorry about that,' he said quietly.

'Ssh. They're not far away.' Vidal murmured.

'And they're drunk.' Jordan whispered.

'I know, I can zlin that, too.' Vidal agreed.

Just up ahead of them both the Gens could now hear the sound of horses' hooves and muffled laughter as four Sime soldiers trotted into view.

'What's your business at this time of day?' The one in charge called out as they all reined in their mounts, 'and where did you get the Gens?'

'We're on our way to the Farris place.' Jordan shouted back.

'And why's that?' The soldier asked suspicion evident in both his voice and his nager.

'I'm Jordan Farris, why shouldn't I be returning home Sergeant?' The Channel asked politely, but with mounting irritation beginning to show in his field.

For a moment the Sime was silent as he gathered his befuddled wits and realised that he had inadvertently stopped one of the powerful Farris clan. Finally he said, 'sorry about that N'vet. Can't be too careful this time of night. Have a safe journey home.'

The four Simes rode quickly on by, and once they were past, they broke into a gallop.

'Your name certainly works wonders on this planet.' Vidal said softly.

'A pity it doesn't invoke the same response back on Earth.' The Sectuib said with a wide grin.

Jason, who was now standing close beside Laurie, glanced across at him and whispered, 'he doesn't realise just how important he is on Earth does he?'

'Not a clue.' Laurie murmured with a wry smile.

As the two Gens got up onto the horses again, Vidal suddenly asked the Sectuib, 'You know I'm wondering if you should have used the Farris name back there? After all we know that Ryan is around here somewhere, and if the patrol runs into him, they might just mention that they saw you.'

'What? And admit to their superior officers that they had had the audacity to stop a member of the Farris family for no good reason? I don't think so,' Jordan said with a touch of feigned arrogance.

'All right come down off your high horse.' Laurie said turning his head to look up at Jordan with a lopsided grin. 'Just remember that when we get back home, you're only the plain old Sectuib in Zeor, nothing more.'

And Jordan nodded meekly as they set off once more.

Skirting around Preston they approached the outskirts of the town in the early hours of the morning, and the two Channels booked a large family room in a tavern. By now the two Gens were almost used to seeing either shackles against the wall or a cage in the corner of the room. So it came as no surprise today when they found both.

'The tavern appears to be fairly full.' Jordan murmured. 'We shall have to be extremely careful while we're staying here. Someone may very well zlin us through the thin walls.'

'Don't pussyfoot around.' Jason said to the Sectuib with a sigh. 'What you're trying to say is that Laurie and I had better sleep on the floor near to the shackles and the cage – right?'

'I'm afraid so.'

'It's not your fault, Jordan.' Laurie said at once. 'Stop apologising.'

'Give me a hand.' Vidal said to the other Channel, and they both grappled with one of the large old mattresses carrying it across to lay it down on the hard floor close to the shackles and cage. 'I doubt if anyone will zlin what you're actually lying on,' he murmured softly to the two Gens.

Laurie pulled off his boots and stretched out on top of it. 'Thanks. I take it you'll all be going out at some point during the day. Just be careful won't you? Remember you're all that stands between us and a rotten existence on this shen awful planet!'

'And I second that.' Jason chimed in.

'You will not be left alone.' Jordan promised. 'One of us will remain here at all times.'

'We don't require babysitting!' Jason began to say.

'Hold it right there Jason.' Laurie interrupted, 'on this particular planet, surrounded by junct Simes? Oh yes we do!'

It was quickly decided that Vidal would make the first foray into Preston, taking young Arik with him.


It was approaching mid-morning when Arik and Vidal entered Preston town
square. A large number of stall holders had set out their wares, while many customers who had been buying things in the shops, wandered around the large open space.

The two Simes stopped beside a vendor who was selling various different nuts from a pain'ted barrow. Vidal bought half a groats worth of mixed nuts, before he said casually, 'I was talking to one of the military last night over a drink. He said they were putting a militant to death tomorrow here in the square.'

'First I've heard about it,' the man replied and then went on with a brief laugh, 'mind you, they don't consult me about what they do.'

'I thought we'd stay around for the fun. My young nephew here hasn't seen an execution before.' Vidal said as he munched on the nuts. 'I thought it might be an object lesson in behaving himself.'

The man zlinned young Arik before he asked Vidal, 'are you sure the Guard said tomorrow?'
Vidal nodded, as the man went on, 'well if you don't mind waiting around, you'll know for sure before sundown. If it is tomorrow they'll bring out the dais and cage and erect them at the far end of the square,' – and he pointed with a tentacle – 'see where that woman and her two kids are standing? It'll be just about there.'

Vidal thanked him for his help as he and Arik strolled off.

'Are we going to wait around and see if they bring the cage out into the square?' Young Arik suddenly asked him.

'Till sundown you mean? I think not.' Vidal said at once. 'We'll take another walk around the square and take note of where the various entries and exits are and return back to the tavern. Jordan can come here later in the afternoon to find out if it's on for sure.'

'And what're you going to do if it ain't on after all?'

'We'll face that when we come to it,' the Channel murmured back with a grimace, for it was a contingency he didn't really want to contemplate.

It was just past midday when they arrived back at the tavern. The two Gens were awake and the Sectuib had somehow procured a pack of cards, and they were all three sitting cross-legged on the mattress, while they played a game that they all knew how to play.

'How did it go?' Laurie asked as he looked up at the two Simes.

'Not too bad.' Vidal said as he tossed the small bag of nuts to Jordan, who caught it with his tentacles. 'Has anyone got a piece of paper I can use?'

'Yes of course.' Jason said sarcastically, 'did you want plain or embossed?'

'I wasn't referring to writing paper.' Vidal said at once. 'Any odd bit will do.'

Laurie began to rummage in their small pile of belongings, until he produced a paper bag that had once held fruit that Vidal had purchased. Smoothing it out as best he could be offered it to the Channel, 'is this any use?'

        'That'll do fine, thank you,' he acknowledged, as he found a small stub of pencil in his knapsack. Then he quickly told them about the information that he and Arik had been able to glean from the nut seller while he drew a rough diagram of Preston town square, showing the entrances and exits and where it was presumed that the dais and cage would be erected.

        'So you want me to go and verify that it is definitely on for tomorrow?' Jordan asked as he studied the diagram and then handed it to the two Gens; and the other Channel nodded his agreement.

        'Any thoughts on how we're going to handle this rescue?' Laurie asked as he placed the drawing down on the bed.

        'Well as far as I can see, there'll only be one thing in our favour – and that's the fact that they won't be expecting anything like this to happen!' the Sectuib replied. 'So, if they do put the cage into the square tonight, I'll have to try and get a closer look at it. See what sort of locks it has for one thing.'

'There aren't any real locks as such, because the whole thing is made out of wood.' Arik informed them, 'and the only opening in or out is through a trap door in the roof which is held in place by another piece of wood.'

'How do you know that?' Jason asked at once.

Arik shrugged, 'I've seen a couple of executions.'

Jason merely met his fellow Gen's eyes and both fell silent.

Then Laurie suggested as he glanced across at the Sectuib. 'Perhaps Logram can get out by jumping up and opening the trap door for himself?'

Arik answered at once, shaking his head to emphasise his words as he said, 'no way! The wood that holds the trap door in position can't be opened from underneath, only from on top.'

'What sort of lock does the trap door have?' Jordan demanded at once.

        'It's not a metal lock. It's just a wedge shaped piece of wood pushed between the frame of the cage and the trap door itself.' Arik explained.

        'Simple but effective,' the Sectuib murmured.

        'Yes, and it might just make our job a lot simpler.' Vidal pointed out.

        'Why's that?' Jason asked.

        'We won't require a key, and we won't have to fiddle around with a complicated tentacle lock either. All we have to do is remove a piece of wood – it's as simple as that.'

        'Let's hope you're correct.' Laurie said softly. 'But it might be best if someone can get a look at this lock before tomorrow, just in case they've changed the design since young Arik last saw it.'

        Jordan agreed.

        'They're still not going to let any of us walk up to the cage and release their prisoner without putting up a fight.' Jason reminded them.

        'We're aware of that.' Jordan said, 'we'll obviously require some sort of distraction down the far end of the square. That'll be your job, Arik – presuming of course that you're willing to help us – you don't have to, you know. You are a free agent. And if you'd rather not help, well I don't think any of us would blame you.'

        'I'll help,' the renSime said at once. 'I ain't got anywhere else to go.'

        'Then we're grateful,' Vidal admitted, 'just as long as you're certain. If you're caught…' He let his words trail off as he looked across at the youth. 'Think about it hard before you finally commit yourself,' he instructed.

        Jason had been listening carefully and suddenly asked, 'so what do you reckon Arik can do on his own to cause a diversion?'

        'I could pinch something off one of the stalls and run,' Arik said after a moment's thought.

        'According to Vidal the square can hold up to about five hundred people, perhaps even more.' Jason pointed out. 'One petty thief pinching something at one end of the square isn't going to make much of an impression on the overall crowd is it? A few in the immediate vicinity might give chase. A few more might turn to watch or zlin, but the rest of them just won't give a shen.'

        'No…I don't suppose they will,' the Sectuib admitted reluctantly. 'But unfortunately we don't have any other alternative.'

        'Yes we do. You're forgetting about Laurie and me.'
        'They are?' Laurie demanded and then raised his eyebrows as he said to his fellow Gen, 'hold on there, Jason. I'm quite willing to risk my life when and if it's necessary – but what exactly are you suggesting?'

        'That you and I have a far better chance of carrying out a diversion than Arik has.'

        'Yes.' Laurie said after a moment's consideration. 'I suppose I have to agree with that.'

        'Well I don't.' Jordan said at once, 'the idea is foolhardly in the extreme.'

        'And why is it foolhardy?' Jason demanded. 'Selyn wise I know I'm not at full strength like Laurie, but even so – I'm still carrying more than most of the average Gens on this planet. So if we used our combined fields to stun the crowds not at the other end of the square, but down the front in the immediate vicinity of the cage, it would give both of you time to release Logram and…' he pointed at the diagram and the nearest exit to where the cage would be standing as he went on, 'if Arik is waiting up there with the horses, we can be on our way long before they realise what's hit them.'

        'It's certainly audacious.' Vidal admitted frankly.

        'It's not audacious.' Jordan snapped back, 'it's completely irresponsible, and downright stupid!'

        'Sectuib,' Vidal said formally, 'do you want to rescue your cousin? I mean really save him from his…fate…or not?'

        'What sort of a question is that?' Jordan asked in surprise, 'of course I want to rescue him. Isn't that the only reason we're all still here and not on our way back home?'

        'Then open your eyes and think! What Jason suggests is the only chance we have of achieving this. Who on this planet would ever even contemplate a rescue like this, being carried out by five people, two of whom are Gen? They won't be looking for it. They won't be expecting it, and they certainly won't know how to handle it – and therein lies our one and only hope of success.'

        The Sectuib was silent for a moment or so, before he said, 'I thought you would have agreed with me – at least as far as Jason and Laurence are concerned.'

        'Jordan, my friend, stop right there – and be honest with yourself. What we now have on the table is the only viable chance of ultimate success. Correct?' The Sectuib reluctantly nodded his head in agreement. 'If we don't go along with this, but decide to use an alternative plan using young Arik, we know…we know, Jordan, that it will have less than a one in a hundred chance of success.' The Sectuib nodded again. 'Whereas the plan that Jason has suggested has a far far higher chance of success – am I correct?'

        'I suppose so.' Jordan muttered reluctantly.

        'I know that you wish above all to keep both our Gens safe, as do I. But sometimes it just isn't possible. They are both grown men Jordan, and I have learned over the many years that Jason and I have worked together to trust his judgment – crazy as I may sometimes think it to be. In this instance he feels, –justifiably in my opinion – that he and Laurie can pull this harebrained scheme off. So let's give it a try. What do you say?'

        The Sectuib sighed as he looked across first at the two Gens, and then back to Vidal. 'Unfortunately I have to agree with you. We can't always keep them out of danger, much as we might wish to.' He paused momentarily before he went on, 'very well, since we don't have any viable alternative on the table. I'll go along with it.'

        Jason smiled grimly as he almost crowed, 'there, I knew you'd see sense.'

        'Shut up, Jason.' Vidal hissed across at him, holding up a tentacle for silence as he said sotto voce, 'and please do try to learn to accept victory with a little more humility.'


        It was late evening when Jordan and Arik – who had insisted on going with him – returned from Preston.

        'It is definitely on for tomorrow,' the Sectuib stated as they entered their room and closed the door behind them. 'They'll be putting him into the cage at sunrise.'

        'Did you manage to get a look at the trap door?' Jason asked.

        'Arik did.'

        'How did you manage that?' Laurie demanded.

        The renSime glanced across at Laurie and hesitated momentarily before he decided to answer his question direct, 'I'm still in my first year, only four months past changeover, and I've always looked a lot younger than my age...I'm thirteen, but I can pass as ten…'

        '…So I played the part of his angry and frustrated Uncle,' Jordan interrupted with a wry grin, 'while hiding his field from the Guards.'

        'And I ran round and round, just keeping out of his reach. Till finally I jumped up on top of the cage, and had a good look at the trap door before two guards hauled me down and handed me back to my supposed Uncle who clipped my ear,' and he rubbed the named appendage as he spoke.

        'And young Arik has verified that the trap door is, indeed, held in place by nothing more than a single piece of wood, as we hoped.' Jordan stated jubilantly.

        'Well done, both of you. I suggest we all eat something and then discuss the finer details of our plan.' Vidal said, looking around for agreement.
        'There's one other thing I should mention,' the Sectuib said as he watched the others sorting out the remainder of their food supply. 'Young Arik here told me about a hiding place that some of his friends have used on occasion.

'So on the way back from town we took a slight detour. There's a derelict old mill just a couple of miles outside Preston. It's made up of three buildings. One of them has a door to an underground storage room, which was obviously cut out of the solid rock many years ago. Down inside this room is another door, but this one is extremely well hidden, and would not be found unless you knew exactly where to look.

'It will make an ideal hiding place for us when we leave the town. At least until the hue and cry dies down a little.'

         'They ain't exactly friends of mine and I ain't never been to Preston before,' the renSime broke in to say, 'but if one of us knows of somewhere safe to lie low, we tell the others. That's all.'

        'Either way, Arik, we are grateful.' Vidal said quickly as he went on, 'surrounding the mill are fields of vegetables. We pulled up quite a lot of them and left them down inside the hidden room. At least our Gens won't starve if we're stuck in there for any length of time.'

        'Raw vegetables again – that's great! Thanks, Vidal, my favourite food. I'm really looking forward to that.' Jason said with a shudder of distaste. 'I sometimes wonder whether it might be better to starve.'

Once they had cleared away the debris of their frugal meal, it was Jordan who began the discussion… and it was quickly agreed that once they arrived in town, Arik would take all three horses, and make his way to the top of the small alley that lay to one side of the cage and would wait for them there.

        In the meantime, the four men would make their way down to the cage in the square where Jason and Laurie would create the diversion, while Jordan opened the trap door and released Logram. Vidal would tackle anyone close by, who were not bowled over by the Genslam, or who tried to interfere.

        Which was as far as their plan of action went. After that it was quite simply a matter of chance and good luck, for the escape could not really be planned beyond that point.
'Our last, and final problem, appears to be self evident, and I have left it to the end. How do we get Jason and Laurie into position at the front of the crowd?' And the Sectuib looked around for suggestions.

        'Jason is fairly low field.' Laurie said, and then qualified the statement as he went on, 'at least for him he's low field, and he can hide his field sometimes – while I am quite capable to disguising my own field…'

        'Under normal circumstances, I would agree with you.' Jordan said, 'but we are talking about taking the pair of you through several hundred renSimes. And whilst I agree that you should both do your best to shield yourselves, you will also have to walk between Vidal and myself, and we'll help to mask your nagers. Between the four of us, we should hopefully be successful.'

        'Amen to that.' Jason said at once.
         'Vidal glanced around. 'Any more questions?'

        'What about their tentacles? They ain't got none.' Arik said pointing to their bare arms.

        'Good question.' Jason said at once.

        'Shen. I hadn't given that a thought.' Vidal confessed.

        'I've got some false ones at home. I wore them to a fancy dress years ago.' Laurie said with a grin in Jason's direction.

        'Not much use back there,' Jason said with a snigger. 'We shouldn't have eaten the slicing sausage, we could have cut it into strips and…'

        'Enough, Jason. Laurie please – will both of you try to concentrate.' Vidal said wearily, 'we only have a few hours to resolve this problem.'

        'If you put your arm around Jason and draw him close into your side, and I do the same with Laurence, then that should hide one of your arms and leave only one exposed.' Jordan suggested.

        'And what about the other arm?' Laurie asked frowning.

        'Well, I suppose, if all else fails, we can always cut them off.' Jason said, laughter dancing in his eyes.

        'Please, Jason.' Vidal shook his head as he begged, 'has anyone got any sensible suggestions?'
        Young Arik, under augmentation, got suddenly to his feet like a dancer and Jason whistled softly as he observed to the room at large, 'you know I'd just love to be able to do that.'

        The renSime smirked down at him as he moved to one of the two beds and picked up one of the threadbare blankets. Turning around he folded it into four and then peremptorily ordered Jason to stand up.

        For a brief moment the Gen wondered whether to obey the order, but then thought better of it as he got slowly to his feet, finding that his leg was cramped from sitting so long in one position. A rueful expression crossed his face as he recalled how elegantly and swiftly Arik had performed this simple task.

        'Well, what now?' He asked as he watched the Sime approach.

        'Bend your arm.' Young Arik ordered brusquely as he wrapped the thin blanket around the Gen's arm and then left it hanging over his shoulder. Leaving only the ends of his fingers exposed.

        'That's a great idea, Arik.' Vidal said as he walked quickly up to his partner. Then placing his arm around Jason's waist he drew him close in to his side. Well?'

        'Perfect. I can't zlin anything out of place.' The Sectuib replied.

        'Won't they think it strange to see us draped in a couple of blankets?' Laurie called across as he, too, struggled to his feet.

        'Not at all.' Jordan retorted. 'Remember that families go there for a day out with the kids. They'll obviously be carrying blankets, baskets and all sorts of other things to enable them to sit down on the hard floor and picnic.'

        Jordan helped Laurie to put on his blanket and they, all four, moved to stand together as the Sectuib looked across at Arik and asked, 'well what do you think, will it work?'

        'What the shen!?' The youth stood staring at them in surprise as he said, 'I can't zlin either Gen. How do you do that – can you teach me?'

        'Unfortunately no.' Jordan said gently. 'Vidal and I are somewhat different than ordinary Simes. We're Channels.'

        'You've said that before. So, what's a Channel?'

        'A Channel amongst a lot of other things; is someone who can give transfer to a Sime like you.' Vidal explained.

        'Like you did back at the castle?'

        'Exactly, but please, like I told you before – don't run away with the idea that that is as good as it gets – because until you've taken transfer from someone like Jordan here…well, you simply have no idea just how good it can be.'

        'You said that it's four months since you changed over – exactly how many kills have you taken?' Jordan asked conversationally.

        'Three – not counting what he did to me,' he said as he glanced across at Vidal.

        'Four months since the first time.' Jordan met Vidal's eyes.

        'You're thinking that he could disjunct? Perhaps go to one of the colonies Rior is setting up?' Vidal guessed.

        'It's something to be considered.' The Sectuib admitted. 'He has no future here, does he?'

        'Look, I agree with what you're both thinking, but first things first. Let's get this rescue over and done with shall we?' Jason said as he stepped away from Vidal and pulled off the blanket and scratched his arm. 'I hope there aren't any fleas on it. How does yours feel Laurie?'


        'What about the other horses?' Young Arik suddenly asked, and seeing the perplexed looks on the men's faces he went on to explain, 'it might be a good idea if we drug the horses belonging to the military – just enough to slow them down when they come after us.'

        Vidal nodded. Tthat's a very good idea, but I have no idea where we could obtain any drugs – or indeed, how we could pay for them,' he confessed.

        'Don't have to buy it.' Arik said with a sniff, 'it's growing in the fields if you know what to look for.'

        'And I take it that you do?'

        'Of course,' he said at once, 'I can pick some early tomorrow morning – and then, before you enter the square, I'll take a walk around and feed it to the horses.'

        'Just enough to slow them down.' Jason emphasised, 'wouldn't want them collapsing on the ground before time, would we?'

        It was then decided that if Logram was to be put on display at dawn, they would arrive there an hour later, for as Vidal had pointed out – too early and the square would be empty, with not enough people to hide themselves amongst. Too late, and they might not be able to get down to the front, near the cage.

        They finally arrived in Preston town square to find that the edges of the square were already filled up with stall holders – while two to three hundred people milled around in the middle ground. Family groups had only just begun to arrive, and were moving to the front of the crowd and stretching blankets out on the cobblestones together with baskets of food for the many children who were already starting to run around playing tag and other such games.

        Jason snorted with disgust as he said, 'fancy bringing children to something like this. You know, Laurie, I thought I'd seen the worst of human behaviour long ago. I was mistaken.'

        The Sectuib gave a sigh as he stared into the square from their vantage point down the narrow alley to one side of the cage as they waited for young Arik to return from dosing the horses with the weed he had picked. The square was now two thirds full. Jordan murmured, 'just about right, don't you agree?'

        Vidal nodded as he finished zlinning the square and the cage. 'Whoever's in the cage his nager does seems vaguely familiar, but as I only met him once I'm not completely certain if it's him,' the Channel admitted.

        Jordan quickly zlinned the cage, 'it's him. No doubt about it, and he's in already in need.'

        'Shen!' Laurie turned to look at his Sectuib. 'You can't serve Vidal and him. What do we do now?'

        'Look – if Logram brought a Gen with him he must be somewhere around here, mustn't he?' Jason stated reasonably.

        'Yes, or he could be under several feet of dirt back on Earth.' Vidal reminded him.

        'But we don't know who that was. Not for certain.'

        'No we don't, but it seems a likely scenario doesn't it?'

        Both men fell silent as Jordan said briefly, 'Please, gentlemen, let's concentrate on the task at hand. One problem at a time, afterwards we'll worry about what to do next.'

        Moments later the four men quickly prepared themselves and then leaving Arik to hold the horses, made their way across the square towards the side of the cage. For a short while the Channels stood there masking the nagers of the two Gens.

The Sectuib glanced at the other Channel asking silently if he was ready. Vidal nodded his agreement – and moments later the two Gens turned to face the crowd as each began to concentrate on the very centre of their beings, contracting their bodies as they had both been taught, until simultaneously they flung their fields wide with all the power at their disposal.

        Peripherally, Jason saw many nearby renSimes collapsing to the floor, some never to get up again – whilst others were screaming in both fear and agony. Even as he took all this in, he also saw Jordan out of the corner of his eye under full augmentation leaping to the top of the cage.

Several of the guards who were far enough away not to have been too badly effected by the Gen blast were racing forward, only to be tackled by Vidal and Laurie. Quickly bringing his own errant attention back to the job in hand, Jason braced himself to accept the body of another guard as he flew towards him. Then watched dispassionately as he fell to the ground, shenned. Turning swiftly he looked for the next...

'Leave it, Jason, leave it!' Vidal's voice came from behind him as the Channel grabbed his arm and augmenting hard pulled him towards the alleyway where, hopefully, young Arik would still be waiting for them. In front of him, Jason saw that Laurie was pounding along after Jordan and another figure that he took to be Logram.

The next few seconds became a complete blur to Jason as Vidal tossed him up onto one of the mares – before he jumped up behind him – and they all began to gallop in single file down the narrow alley. Many Simes who were still making their way down into the square had no idea what was happening, and merely jumped out of the way of the horses as the six men made their way out of the town.

Having only the three horses between them, they all had to double up. Young Arik had Laurie up behind him, while Jordan took Logram, and Jason hung on grimly to Vidal as the pace quickened once they hit open country.

On their way to the derelict mill and comparative safety, they passed what looked like a deserted farm building. The Sectuib speculated that probably the occupants had all gone to town like everyone else for the show. Arik then suggested that they let their horses loose in one of the pastures near the farm where several other horses were already grazing.

Vidal agreed at once as he said, 'hopefully when the farmer returns it'll be dark and he won't notice the extra horses till tomorrow – and with luck we might even retrieve them ourselves before then. Besides, Arik is right, if we take them with us all the way to the mill. It'll be a sure giveaway that we're somewhere in the vicinity.'

'How far is it from here to the mill?' Laurie asked the renSime, as he climbed down and helped to release the horses.

        Arik zlinned the surrounding area before he said, 'about a mile I reckon. If we leave the main track and cut across open country.'

        Once they were safely concealed deep under the mill, the three Simes quickly manhandled three large rocks in front of the hidden door. Then all of them retreated to the far end of the room to take as much advantage as possible of the solid rock walls.

        'Well, we've done all we can.' Vidal murmured sotto voce, 'all we can do now is be as quiet as possible, and keep our tentacles crossed.'

        'That's all very well for them.' Jason hissed in Laurie's ear. 'Using us they can see in the dark – but I can't see a damn thing.'

        'Tell me about it – I'm a touch claustrophobic, you know.' Laurie retorted honestly.

        Both Channels were now damping down the nagers of their two Companions because they were both aware that Logram, who was now feeling need, might well attack one of the Gens if they didn't do so.
Jordan turned to his cousin, zlinning him, as he ignored the comments made by the Gens and said, 'you're not feeling too good are you.'

        'I'm feeling dreadful.' The other Sime confessed at once.

        'Did you bring a Gen with you when you came through the portal?' Laurie demanded as he stared in the direction of the Channel although he could not see him.

        'Yes…of course I did.'

        'Well where the shen is he?' Jason queried in his turn.

        'Jason, I think both you and Laurie would be better employed helping Logram at this time, rather than interrogating him.' Jordan pointed out.

        Laurie immediately moved to obey the Sectuib, and it looked for a moment as though Jason might argue with him, but then he, too, moved to sit on the other side of the Channel, feeling his way in the dark.

        'Sorry, Jordan, but I'm more concerned about Vidal than him.' Jason admitted quietly. 'After all, Logram brought all this on himself.'

        'I realise that, but I'm sure Vidal will agree with me when I say that he's a First, and is therefore well able to stand a little discomfort – while Logram is only a Second. It's much harder for him.'

        'I know that.' Jason grumbled, 'but even so…' He fell silent as he helped Laurie to ease the Sime's obvious distress.

        'How do you feel now?' Jordan asked as he zlinned his cousin.

        'Marvellous.' the Sime smiled for the first time as he went on, 'I haven't felt this good for ages. In fact I feel as if I'm floating on a bubble of air.'

        'Good.' Jordan nodded his head, 'just don't get too carried away. We have a few questions to ask you.'

        'First and foremost, where's the Gen you brought with you?' Laurie demanded.

        'Gynon is staying with a follower of mine who lives near the centre of Preston.'

        'Follower? What follower are you referring to?' Vidal asked leaning forward in the dark.


        Jordan frowned across at his cousin. 'I think you'd better explain that remark.'

        'When I first came through the portal, I was as shocked as you no doubt were when I realised that this planet was still going through a period every bit as bad as the age of chaos on Earth. On top of that, I soon found that there's no movement whatsoever on this planet towards a Householding of any description.' The Channel became more animated as he warmed to a subject that was obviously close to his heart. 'It must also be as obvious to you as it was to me, that Zelerod's forecast of doom will soon be every bit as relevant here as it was at one time on Earth.'

        'Of course.' Vidal murmured, 'we've talked about that.

        'Hold it a minute Vidal, didn't anyone hear what he said?' Jason demanded. 'He said: “when I first came through the portal.” Just how many shenning times have you been here before, Logram?'

        'Five times in the last four years.' He confessed at once.

        'What!' Jordan and Vidal spoke as one shock evident in their voices and nagers.

        'Please, let me explain…' Logram begged, 'then I'm sure you'll understand.'

        'I'm not so sure about that.' Laurie said calmly. 'But he's right about one thing. Let him explain before everyone gets too excited.'

        'Laurence is correct.' Jordan said at once. 'Proceed.'

        Laurie opened his mouth to correct him, but then closed it again with a sigh of resignation.

        Taking a deep breath, the Channel began his explanation.

        'You know I'm a dedicated historian, Sectuib. And this place, well, it's a dream come true – horrifying, too, in many ways that are obvious to every one of you, but in other ways – utterly fascinating.

        'I could see the parallels and also the differences with Earth – and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had to try and help these people – because without help of some kind, they really are doomed.'

'So, after the first time that I came here, I returned home and thought about what I could do to help. The only thing that came to mind was the fact that they desperately lacked a Householding. Something – that as far as I could see – would never come about, without outside assistance.

'I came back a second time and began to talk to ordinary people. People, who – although not well educated – were at least able to grasp new concepts, and new ideas. I explained about Zelerod's philosophy and how it had borne fruit on Earth in the past.' He paused momentarily, and then went on, sincerity ringing clearly in his voice and his nager. 'A lot of these people, with all their faults, are not stupid, Sectuib. And once they realised the enormity of their situation they were quite prepared to listen to my solutions.

'How many “followers” have you got?' Jason asked sarcastically.

'Around thirty that I'm sure of, and another ten – perhaps twelve – who I think would be prepared to help me set up a working House, even if they would never be willing to live on Channel's transfer full time.'
        'So we're talking about juncts semi-juncts, and in time, a few disjuncts.' Jordan murmured almost angrily.

        'And eventually we'll get to the stage where some of my followers may actually bring their children to us before they ever think about killing. Please Sectuib, you must see that this is a worthy cause. One well worth pursuing.'

        'Zeor has no right to interfere in another planet's affairs, Logram. You know that.' Jordan said at once.

        'Then, if I must – I will have to leave Zeor,' the Channel said in a whisper.

        'That, of course, is your decision,' the Sectuib said with sadness in his voice. 'But I have to warn you, that we came here only to find you and take you safely back home. Should you decide not to return with us, then you will have to remain here – indefinitely.' Jordan paused, and then went on, 'we have already decided to destroy the portal on Earth completely. You know what that means.'

        'Then, so be it.' Logram straightened his back as he made his momentous decision. 'I can't just abandon these people.'

        'Hey, hang on a minute. We just saved you from death by attrition.' Jason pointed out. 'You wouldn't have been much use to your followers then, would you?'

        'And apart from that,' Laurie said, 'weren't you sentenced because you were caught peddling insurgence in some of the towns around here?'

        'Insurgence? No. Not in the strict sense of the word. But you must have discovered by now that free speech isn't exactly welcomed on this planet.' Logram stated. 'I had to get Zelerod's idea across to these people. Tell them what was going to happen if they didn't stop killing Gens, and explain about Householdings. I couldn't get any newspaper to publish the articles that I wrote. The only thing I could do was quite literally stand on a soap box and talk to the masses.'

        Vidal gave a bark of derisive laughter. 'I can imagine how well that went down.'

        The Channel shrugged his thin shoulders. 'If I could only get one or two in each town to at least listen to me… A start has to be made somewhere. “Mighty oaks from little acorns,” you know.'

        Jordan closed his eyes and thought for a moment or two before he said, 'have you considered all the ramifications of what you propose? For months, perhaps years, you will be the only Channel in your…House. The only Companion will be – Gynon.

'To obtain more Gens you will have to rely on wild Gens that you can catch. And I don't imagine that they'll prove exactly cooperative, do you?' Jordan's voice grew harsher as he went on, 'quite apart from a few hundred other objections that you must already be aware of, there's the simple fact that you'll be harbouring wild Gens and junct Simes under the same roof with no one but you to stand between them! How long do you think such a situation can go on before Gens are attacked and killed?

'And believe me, Logram, when I say that once the first kill has been made, others will undoubtedly follow.' He warned.

'Gynon is not the only Gen!' The Channel said softly.

'I beg your pardon?' Jordan frowned as he stared at his cousin and said, 'explain that remark.'

'I have been considering this for over four years Sectuib. So please, credit me with a little common sense. As I said before: I have discussed my ideas with many of my friends and acquaintances on Earth, and don't worry I have sworn them all to secrecy.

'I have been joined by twenty four Gens – eight Thirds and another Second like myself, along with ten renSimes – one or two have even brought their children. And do not worry, none of them are from Zeor or any other Householding.' He paused and then said, 'well that's not entirely accurate. Rolf was a First who came with us and was from Frihill. He brought his own Gen with him, a young woman called Denise. She's a 4+ and greatly tallented. Unfortunately Rolf was here for less than a month when he died in a freak accident.'

'Doesn't it seem strange to you that most of your “followers” who have come here to start a new Householding do not belong to one on Earth?' Laurie murmured.

'It's the fact that we're helping this planet to get through a period in their history that, without our assistance, could annihilate them – that's actually driving them forward. Not the concept of a new House.' Logram pointed out, 'but as a first step along the route to a Tecton – a Householding is an obvious first choice. They all appreciate that.'

'You're determined about this aren't you?' Jordan said slowly as he zlinned his cousin deeply.

'Yes, I am. I'm sorry Jordan. Perhaps in time you'll understand my motives.'

The Sectuib sighed, then stood up and walked to the far wall where he placed his tentacles against the hard rock surface and closed his eyes as he absorbed what he had just learned. Then retracting his tentacles again he walked back to join the others as he said softly, 'I already understand your motives, and it has never been in my nature to get upset about things I cannot change. Since you are a grown man and have quite obviously made up your mind with regard to this…scheme of yours… Then I will not try to dissuade you further.

'And that being the case, it would seem that our next priority is to reunite him with Gynon.' Vidal stated quickly.

'Yes, Gynon.' Logram nodded his head in agreement with Vidal as he turned to his cousin and said, 'thank you, Sectuib. I'm sorry to have caused you so much trouble.'

Jordan dismissed the words with a flick of a tentacle as he said, 'there is one thing I'm interested in however. How did you find out about the portal in the first place?'

'Does it really matter now?' Logram asked wearily.

'Perhaps not at this moment; but I should like to know at some point in the future,' the Sectuib confessed honestly.

'There's something I'd like to know, too.' Vidal said quickly. 'When Jason and I followed the Sectuib's instructions and found the portal for the first time, we also found a dead Gen. He had been stabbed to death. What do you know about it?'

'When Jordan and I came through, we didn't see a dead Gen,' Laurie stated.

'Which means that someone must have come through the portal during the three months between when we came through and Vidal and Jason followed us.' Jordan said.

'Yes, I believe can explain.' Logram murmured. 'The last time I came through the portal, Gynon stayed behind to organise further supplies and to escort two of the Thirds who have joined us. I believe I mentioned them before. As the three of them came through the portal at this end they found that a wild Gen had somehow found his way into the cave and was watching them. He was, of course, even more scared when they – at least from his point of view – suddenly materialised from thin air in front of him.

'Gynon tried to calm him down, and explain that they meant
him no harm. But it was to no avail.' Logram said with obvious regret. 'One of the Thirds moved to touch his arm, nothing more, and he went berserk. Started fighting and pulled out a knife. Then they all tried to grab hold of him to try and disarm him. In the ensuing scuffle he somehow fell backwards and onto the knife. It was unfortunate, but both Thirds were zlinning at the time, and they say it was most definitely an unfortunate accident.'

'It was also rather lucky from your point of view that he died.' Laurie said softly speaking into the darkness.

Logram stared across at the Gen who could not, of course, see him before he said, 'meaning?'

'Meaning – what at that moment in time would you have done with a wild Gen who was now aware of the portal, and could easily tell other Gens about it? After all, you could hardly make him an indefinite prisoner could you? I'm merely saying that it was – convenient for all of you that he died as he did – nothing more.'

All the men fell silent for a few moments until Jason suddenly demanded, 'but why send his dead body back through the portal?'

'Gynon thought it would be the best thing to do at the time. He did not want any other Gens to follow his trail and perhaps find his body. Or worse than that, discover the portal. Also you may have noticed that the ground in that part of the country is made up of hard rock with soft sand over the top, making it virtually impossible to dig down deep enough to bury anyone. So they all agreed to send him through the portal as a temporary measure. When they returned to fetch more supplies, they intended to bury him on the other side.'

'He was a wild Gen and he fought till he died.' Jason said quietly, 'doesn't that tell you how difficult your self imposed task is going to be – especially since you've got to catch them first? Which means they'll be terrified from the word go. Also it may be many years before any Sime hands one of his children over to you.'

Laurie nodded his agreement in the dark, as he said, 'let's not lie to ourselves here. Junct and semi-junct Simes are going to have to kill a Gen from time to time just to remain sane. That's a plain and simple fact – and that being so, what are you going to do? Spend money you can't afford and perhaps haven't got to buy Gens for them from the military? Or send them out to catch their own wild Gens?' He paused for a moment and then said slowly, 'how do you explain that to your new Gen recruits? I'd hardly call it a confidence boosting exercise, would you?'

Logram remained silent and Jordan murmured, 'just drop the subject everyone. After all, it's no longer our concern.'

Vidal cleared his throat as he reminded them, 'what is our concern, however, is deciding on our next move.'

'Personally, I don't think we have any alternative but to stay exactly where we are for the next forty eight hours at least, because they'll be searching the countryside for us,' Laurie pointed out logically.

'I would agree with you, except Logram can't wait that long.' The Sectuib said bluntly.

'I'll leave you all here and make my own way back to town.' Logram said standing up with Sime swiftness.

'Don't be ridiculous. In your condition, you'll be caught as soon as you show you show your face outside these walls.' Vidal snapped with irritation.

Jason and Jordan both moved to place a hand on the Channel's bare arms. Vidal smiled briefly at his two friends as he acknowledged their concern. 'I'm fine, don't worry about me.'

Jason snorted inelegantly as he murmured, 'stop trying to kid everyone, Vidal, you're starting to feel need yourself now.'

'And so is the Sectuib.' Vidal said with a grimace, 'he just hides it better.'

Laurie sighed as he said, 'it doesn't alter the fact that somehow we have to get Logram and Gynon together. Which means that we have to either get Logram back into Preston, or fetch Gynon here. There isn't any other course of action open to us, is there?'

'Both propositions are impossible.' the Sectuib stated emphatically.

'I could fetch him here.' Five pairs of eyes turned to look at the young Sime who had been silent throughout the entire discussion.

'And how do you propose to achieve that?' Jason asked, sarcasm in his voice, although he could not see the renSime.

Arik said at once, 'I take your collar and shackles into town, put them on this Gen…Gynon, and bring him out as mine. With luck, I doubt that anyone will question me. Especially since most of the men in the town will be out helping the military to search the countryside.'

'It might just work.' Vidal murmured, 'especially since we're close to Preston here, and surely they must be searching further afield by now.'

Jordan nodded before he said to Arik, 'it'll be extremely dangerous and if you get caught…'

'If I get caught, I know you won't be able to help me this time. But you don't have any other alternative do you?'

'Do you think its safe enough for him to go outside?' Laurie asked looking from one Channel to the other.

'I would imagine that they've already searched the mill by now and hopefully moved on, out into the open country,' the Sectuib replied. 'But we won't take any chances. I'll go up to the surface first and zlin the surrounding area before Arik sets off.'

As no one could come up with a better plan, they moved the rocks from the door and Jordan slipped out.

While he was gone Jason quickly found his collar and shackles that he had put into one of the bags while they conducted the rescue. 'Oh, and I almost forgot. Take this with you,' Jason said as he pulled the cape and hood out of his rucksack and wrapped it around the collar and shackles so that the renSime could carry them as a bundle. 'Make sure that Gynon puts this on. He'll be high field by now and this cape and hood will help to hide most of his nager from passing Simes. Hopefully, for all intents and purposes, he'll only have the nager of your average Gen.'

Vidal nodded. 'Good thinking Jason.'

'You may have to walk to town, because the farmer may well have found our horses by now,' Laurie reminded him.

'Even if he has,' the renSime said, 'they'll still be in the field where we left them where else would he put them?'

Vidal nodded. 'Arik has a valid point. After all even if the farmer told the military that he'd found them. They would only confiscate them from him.'

Moments later Jordan returned to say that the coast, as far as he could zlin, was clear – and Arik set off on his journey.

While he was gone the small party moved out of their rock prison up onto the surface, where the two Channels kept watch and the Gens concentrated all their efforts on helping Logram while he waited for his own Gen to arrive.

However, no one had yet had the courage to voice their main fear. What they would do if Arik, for whatever reason, could not bring Gynon back with him.

Later in the day as Logram tried with the Sectuib's help to rest, Jason whispered to Laurie about his fears.

'I agree, but what we can do?' his fellow Gen asked honestly, as he again reiterated the obvious. 'I can serve Jordan, and the Sectuib can serve Vidal,' He said with a sigh, 'but if Gynon doesn't arrive, that still leaves no one to serve Logram!'

'I'm well aware of that, Laurie. But what worries me more is that Vidal is going to insist that the Sectuib serves Logram and not him. I know him too well, it's just the sort of self-sacrificing thing the idiot would do.'

Laurie smiled briefly at his friend as he said sotto voce, 'you're right, of course, but knowing Jordan he's just as likely to make the sacrifice himself. Noblesse oblige, and all that.'

The two Companions fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts.


Arik found the horses exactly where they had left them, and picking the fastest of the three, he set off in the direction of Preston.

Logram's directions had been specific and the young renSime followed them carefully as he rode slowly towards the centre. He passed many women and children, but very few men.

Some of the women called out to ask him how the search was going, and one older woman demanded to know why he wasn't still out there searching, since her own man had not yet returned. Arik simply said that he had come to pick up a Gen that his family had been holding for his uncle, and would be going out again later to join the search.

Arriving at the address he had been given, he was greeted with suspicion by the renSime woman who opened the door to him.

He explained that he had been sent by Logram to fetch Gynon.

'You must zlin that I'm telling the truth.' Arik said almost losing his temper as the female continued to question him.

Finally she allowed him to enter the house and grudgingly took him upstairs. Opening the door, she stepped aside so that he could enter. The Gen was sitting on the side of a bed, his head in his hands, but he looked up quickly as he saw the strange renSime standing in the doorway.

'Are you Gynon?'

The Gen, who was only a few years older than Arik nodded his head as he jumped to his feet, 'you know where Logram is?'

'Yes. I've been sent to take you to him.'

'Thank God. I've been so worried he must be in need by now. When I heard that he was being put into that cage yesterday morning in the town square, I thought he was finished for sure.'

Arik stared at him as he opened his bundle and pulled out the collar and other accoutrements. 'You're really worried about him aren't you?' He said in genuine surprise.

'Of course,' the young Gen nodded his head vigorously as he picked up the collar, 'what's this for?'

Arik quickly explained how he intended to get the Gen out of the town, as he helped him to put on the cape and hood and then fastened the collar around his neck, attached the chain and then helped him to put on the shackles. Luckily Gynon was quite short and the cape hung down to his knees. Once the Gen was ready Arik repeated what he had heard Vidal say to Jason and Laurie on more than one occasion. 'You'll have to walk behind my horse. Don't speak to anyone – no matter what they say to you. Leave it to me to answer them. Keep your head down at all times, and do not make eye contact. Finally, if we are stopped, then keep my horse between you and them.' The young Gen nodded his agreement and understanding.

Then Arik watched in surprise as Gynon said goodbye to the young Sime woman, thanking her and promising to get in touch later when it was safe to do so.

Mounting his horse once more, Arik nodded to the woman who zlinned them until they were out of sight.

Leaving the town caused them no problems and the first hour on the trail was uneventful, and the renSime was just beginning to wonder if he dared to take the Gen up onto his horse and perhaps make better headway, when a small group of military rode into view.

Arik kicked himself mentally for not zlinning them before, aware that it was a mistake that might well prove fatal. But in his defence their nagers had been hidden by a small outcrop of rock at a bend in the trail, and it was not until the men had ridden around this obstacle that he had become aware of their presence.

Within moments, the two youngsters were surrounded by the mounted militia.

'What are you doing with that?' The one in charge demanded as he prodded Gynon's shoulder with his riding crop while the Gen kept his head down and made sure that Arik's horse was between him and the other renSimes.

'It belongs to my Uncle not me. He's paying me to fetch it.'

'Why would he do that?'

'He's ill.' Arik said, desperately hoping that the officer would not read the lie in his nager.

'That's a shenning lie! You've stolen him and you know it.'

'We should confiscate the Gen till his real owner turns up.' One of the other men called out and they all laughed, for they all knew that even if the real owner turned up, he wouldn't get his Gen back.

'What the shen is going on here, Sergeant?' An imperious voice suddenly demanded and they all turned to stare at the newcomer in surprise, since none of them had zlinned his approach.

Immediately the men sat up straight on their horses as the one in charge stated, 'we er we just came upon this lad N'vet. He says the Gen belongs to his Uncle, but I think we should confiscate it and…'

'Silence!' The man shouted as he drew closer and Arik realised he was riding a black stallion that was probably worth more groats than he would ever see in his entire life. 'You are supposed to be scouring the countryside looking for five criminals three Sime and two Gen. Why aren't you doing that Sergeant?'

'I'm sorry N'vet. We only stopped for a moment. Once I've sent one of my men back with the Gen I'll…'

'No. You will not send one of your men back. You will forget about this Sime and the Gen. They are of no importance to me, do you understand that? You will leave them here, and get on with the search. Just remember that the reward I'm offering will keep you in the best Gens money can buy – probably for the rest of your miserable life. If you're not interested in that, or you'd rather I told your commanding officer about this…' His voice trailed off threateningly as he went on softly, 'I trust I make myself clear Sergeant?'

'Yes, N'vet – crystal clear.'

'Well get on with it then!' He thundered, angry frustration in both his voice and his nager.

Without another word the small troop turned their horses around and galloped off across country.

For a brief moment the arrogant figure stared across at the young dirty looking Sime before his eyes moved to rest on the equally dirty and tired looking Gen before he dismissed them from his mind. His eyes moved to scan the horizon as he continued to zlin for any movement. Then without a word he swung his horse around and galloped off in the other direction.

'Shenshay that was close!' Gynon said as his eyes stared after the lone rider who was already almost out of sight.

'I can't believe he just let us go like that.' Arik murmured. At the Farris Farm he had only caught a brief glimpse of Ryan Farris and had never been close enough to zlin him. Even when he had followed him from the Hotel in Boston to the military outpost, he had still not been close enough to zlin him properly, but even so he was certain that the arrogant rider was indeed Ryan Farris, in which case they were lucky indeed.

'I guess we're just not important enough,' the Gen said thankfully.

Arik grinned down at him as he said, 'as our luck seems to be in. How about you climb up behind me and we make as much headway as we can, before one of them changes their mind and comes after us?'

        Gynon, to the renSime's surprise, immediately jumped up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist. Arik had never before encountered any Gen, apart from Jason and Laurie, who showed absolutely no fear around a Sime. Indeed, Arik found himself sighing with content as he leaned back onto the Gen.

        Stopping only to let the horse loose in the paddock again, he led Gynon quickly across the fields towards the old mill.

        As they entered the ruins, Logram pulled away from the Sectuib's restraining arms and flew towards Gynon. Arik quickly moved out of the way, and was even more surprised to see the young Gen almost joyfully extend his arms as he willingly gave his selyn to his friend.

        Arik unashamedly zlinned the whole event – as he tried to understand what was happening in front of his eyes. In all his short life he had never seen anything like it before. Indeed, he wondered if he would ever see anything like it ever again. Gens were not supposed to live. They were born to die – weren't they? Once upon a time he would have had no hesitation at all in answering that question in the affirmative, because that was the philosophy all Simes lived by...but now?

He shook his head as he tried to assimilate all the new facts he was now faced with, as he wondered whether it would be better to have his own private supply of selyn, instead of having to chase down a Gen month after month – or perhaps kill someone else's Gen – which was how he had come to end up in jail the last time? He would have to think about it carefully before he finally made up his mind one way or the other.

        Suddenly he became aware of his surroundings once more, as he realised that the transfer of selyn from Gynon to Logram was over. The others were congratulating him on his success in bringing the Gen back safely, and that according to what Logram was saying, the two other Simes who called themselves Channels, were now in need themselves.

        'Gynon says your journey back here was not uneventful.' Jordan said with a smile, 'care to tell us about it?'

        Arik did so, the others only interrupting him when he mentioned that the officer had called the Sime on the black stallion – “N'vet.”

        'It has to be Farris. The lorsh won't give up, will he?' Jason muttered angrily.

         'It would appear not.' Vidal agreed his voice almost entirely without emotion.

        Laurie glanced across at Jason and raised an eyebrow as Jason said, 'watching Logram take transfer from Gynon must have felt like torture to Vidal and Jordan. Why don't you and Jordan take transfer now, so that the Sectuib can take care of Vidal? At the moment we've got a period of calm. For all we know it won't last, and we must get this over and done with before we have to be on the run again.' He looked across at Jordan including him in his comments as he said, 'don't you agree?'

        The Sectuib nodded and then became more businesslike as he looked at his cousin and said, 'stay here with Gynon and stand guard. This shouldn't take long.'

         The four men then turned to walk further into the ruins, when they were suddenly stopped by Arik who asked, 'Can I watch?'

        'What?' The Sectuib turned to stare at him as he asked. 'Why? You just saw Logram and Gynon take transfer didn't you?'

        'Yes, but that's the only time I've seen, what do you call it – “transfer.” I know Vidal did it to me, but I didn't expect it, and I couldn't really watch it as well could I?' He paused and then said honestly, 'I'd like to see it again.'

        Jordan chuckled softly as he observed, 'so what you're really telling me is that you're interested in a – scientific sense?'

        The renSime who had no idea what “scientific” meant, nodded his head in agreement.

        'Very well. We'll look upon it as part of your education – a growing up process.'

        Laurie looked up at his friend as he asked, 'are you sure it's such a good idea Jordan?'

        'Why not? How else is he going to learn?' He glanced across at the other Channel as he asked, 'you agree?' and Vidal nodded his head.

        Arik sat back against what remained of an inside wall and watched avidly as Laurie approached Jordan, and even though the young renSime could zlin how far into need the Sectuib was, the Channel still did not grab at his only source of selyn. Instead he wrapped his tentacles around the Gen's arms almost gently before their lips met, and Arik was immediately caught in the backwash of selyn movement that was deeper and faster than he had ever experienced before.

        Jason, in the meantime, tried his best to shield Vidal from that same backwash that he knew was there, but could not see, although he felt sure he could feel – while Vidal tried not to zlin what was happening at all.

        As the transfer came to an end, Jordan released his Companion and smiled his thanks as he turned to young Arik and asked softly, 'well?'

        'That was…awesome.'

        'Yes it was.' Laurie said with a grin as he went to sit by the renSime.

        The Sectuib turned to look at Vidal and held out his hand invitingly.

        Vidal moved as purposefully as he could to stand in front of his friend. He licked his lips as he said, 'I know it's ridiculous but I have to admit that I'm…unsettled about this.'

        'Trust.' Jordan said softly as he stared into his friend's eyes. 'Remember, I'll only be taking from your secondary system not your primary, and I shall not take it all since my own secondary system is already well over three quarters full.'

        Taking a deep breath Vidal held out his arms and their tentacles entwined and the two men's lips met. Moments later Jordan dismantled his hold.
Turning towards the other Gen he beckoned him over with a tentacle. 'Come Jason,' Jordan ordered softly, and waited as the Gen obeyed before he took him into transfer position and drew selyn from him. Dismantling his tentacles he smiled at Jason as he said, 'no, don't go away. Stay here beside me and place your hand on the back of my neck.'

Turning to the other Channel he went on, 'it's lucky that I've taken transfer from Jason before. It should help me to simulate his characteristics, enough perhaps to make it easier for you to take transfer from me.'

        He then waited calmly for the other Channel to take up his position in front of him again before he said softly. 'Don't hold back,' then more emphatically he stated, 'I can handle this Vidal, trust me.'

        Beside him, Arik felt Laurie's fear for both Channels, in case something should go dreadfully wrong; and then his complete trust in his Sectuib as the transfer began.

        At first Vidal couldn't help but hold back. Then suddenly instead of Jordan in front of him, it was Jason, and almost against his will he felt himself seize the source of selyn that enticed him so temptingly and immediately relief swept through him as he drew at his full speed and capacity.

Quicker and quicker the Gen's sparkling selyn rushed into his systems, satisfying the need that was so deep within him. Almost recklessly he now drew until suddenly it slowed and finally came to a trickling halt, and his eyes opened to find himself looking once again into his friend's face. Slowly they dismantled their tentacles and Jordan stepped back with a lopsided smile on his face.

        'It worked.'

        Vidal gave a smile of relief as he said, 'yes it did, but for a moment there…how the shen did you manage to make me believe I was actually taking transfer from Jason?' He glanced across at the Gen who was still standing beside the Sectuib.

        'Tricks of the trade. If you'd come to Zeor when I asked you to, instead of rushing off to join Sam to find excitement elsewhere.' The Channel shrugged his shoulders expressively, as he admitted with a smile. 'However, putting all that aside – I'd say that capacity-wise, there's very little difference between either of us now.'

         Vidal sighed as he confessed. 'Maybe you're right, but in all honesty I don't think I'd like to try giving you transfer.'

        Jordan chuckled softly as he said truthfully, 'neither would I, my friend, neither would I.'

        Vidal laughed as he said softly to the Sectuib in an aside, 'seeing as how you fooled me into believing I was taking transfer from Jason, I don't suppose you can do the same with some willing woman can you? Blonde or brunette I don't really mind.'

        'Hey, I heard that.' Jason called across, 'what about Laurie and me? We're both pretty horny you know.'

        Laurie laughed outloud as he observed, 'it's so long since I've had a woman that I've almost forgotten what they look like. Does anyone fancy putting on a wig?'

        'Sorry but there's nothing I can do. I do know my limitations you know.' Jordan confessed wryly. 'Even I have to be content with conjuring up my wife in my dreams – and believe me that's nothing like the real thing.'

        Jason grinned at the two Channels. 'Well at least Vidal and I will be in synch again. Be grateful for small mercies, eh?'

        The Channels turned to look at young Arik who was staring at them as though transfixed. 'I think we've shocked our young renSime into silence.' Jordan remarked with a grin.

        'Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have had the same affect on Laurie.' Vidal pointed out, as the Gen who was quite obviously relieved now that it was all over – began to bombard them with questions.

        Some time later Vidal went out to speak to Logram and returned to say that as far as he could zlin there was no one in their immediate vicinity. However, in the last few hours Logram had zlinned several small groups of riders in the distance – although, luckily, all of them had appeared to be heading away from where they were hidding.

        'Even so, I still think we should move away from here as soon as possible,' Vidal stated.

        'If Logram is correct, and I have no reason to doubt him, and all the activity has been over in that direction…' Jordan said waving a graceful tentacle towards the distant horizon, 'then it would be foolhardy for us to venture there for the time being.'

        'But that direction leads to the Hollow Mountains – and eventually – home.' Jason pointed out with obvious frustration.

        'Look, I want to get away from this place as much as you do.' Laurie admitted, 'but there's no point at all in going that way if it's swarming with military.'

        'So what do you suggest?' Jason asked.

        Vidal turned to Gynon who had come inside to join them as he asked, 'where is Logram thinking of building this Householding of his? I take it he does have a spot picked out?'

        Gynon nodded as he said, 'one of our followers was left a small farm south of here by a relative who died trying to make a go of it as a working farm, but without success. I think she was only too pleased to get it off her hands. As a new Householding we'll only have to grow enough food to feed ourselves and we should be able to do that easily enough.'

'There's a deep well on the property, too.' He hesitated and then went on, 'to be honest with you Sectuib, I think that Logram is trying to move too quickly. It must have taken decades before the first Houses on Earth were so much as tolerated – and even then they were raided again and again.

        'I have a feeling that it's going to be a lot harder for us to gain acceptance here. Indeed, I have suggested to Logram that in the beginning we'll have to hide all our Gens or we'll undoubtedly be constantly under attack. After all, on this planet there are no Pens where the ordinary Simes can get a regular supply of selyn. Which means that they have no alternative but to hunt or steal.'

        Jordon sighed, 'I can see your dilemma, Gynon. But what do you want me to do? I have already told my cousin that I think he's foolish in the extreme to even attempt what he has in mind. On top of that, he has caused all this unnecessary trouble for himself, talking in town squares about his ideas.' The Sectuib shook his head in exasperation as he went on, 'he has placed not only himself, but all of you, in grave danger.'

        'I don't think he meant to do that,' the Gen said earnestly, 'but he was frustrated because he can see that the people here are heading blindly towards Zelerod's doom – the very thing that we escaped on Earth only by the skin of our teeth. Yet, here…' He shrugged his shoulders and fell silent.

        'I hate to cast even more doom and gloom on the proceedings,' Jason said quietly, 'but you do remember that we have a time limit for getting home, Jordan. The clock is still ticking – literally; and I for one will be glad to kick the dust of this planet off my boots, once and for all.'

        Jordan nodded as he admitted softly, 'I should, however, like to see where this new House will be before we leave here for good.'

        Vidal grinned across at his friend as he said optimistically, 'if we go and have a look first. At least it'll give Ryan time to scour the countryside around the Hollow Mountains and beyond and then move into another area – hopefully a long way from here – before we head back to the portal.'

        Everyone eventually agreed to the plan, although both Jason and Laurie had reservations.

        As they moved further and further in land in a southerly direction the whole party began to relax as each of the Channels stated that they could no longer zlin any hunting parties in their immediate vicinity.

        'Let's hope it stays that way.' Laurie murmured as he stared at the countryside, which was lusher now that they were moving further away from the desert in the north.

        Surprisingly young Arik spent most of his time talking to Gynon, which, as Jason pointed out to the others, was more than a little strange since he had once found it difficult to even be civil to a Gen.

        The small party stopped a mile or so from Logram's proposed Householding and the two Firsts zlinned the property thoroughly.

        'It's not too bad a site,' the Sectuib finally conceded as he turned to his cousin. 'I have to confess that I can zlin no Gen nagers either inside or outside the structures.'

        Logram smiled. 'I can assure you that they are there but it's quite simple to explain. As I said before, when we first came here the farm already had underground cellars, which were used for storage. We've dug them out much wider and deeper and we have a lookout on the top of the water tower over there. We have someone on duty both day and night. When he zlins anyone approaching that he doesn't know, or who isn't expected, he rings the bell and all the Gens immediately disappear underground until the danger has passed.'

        'A sensible precaution.' Vidal conceded, as Logram led the way into the farmyard.

        As they climbed wearily down from their horses they were quickly surrounded by a laughing group that consisted of both Gens and junct and semi- junct Simes, all of whom were fairly young.

        Logram made the introductions and then said, 'you'll meet the others tonight when they come in from the fields and orchards.'

        Suddenly a Gen female approached them. She was young and blonde with large blue eyes, and was one of the prettiest females either Channel had seen for some time. Vidal and Jordan immediately zlinned her before Vidal turned to Logram and said, 'this, I take it, is Denise whose Channel was unfortunately killed?'

        Logram nodded as he made the introductions and then said, 'as you can see I took her field down just before I left here for the city, or I would have suggested she serve Vidal.'

        Jordan stepped closer to her as he said softly, 'may I?'

        'Of course Sectuib,' the young woman held out her hands and waited as Jordan settled his tentacles on her arms and touched lips, moments later he disengaged and stepped back. 'You are an extremely talented young lady, Denise.'

        'As I said Sectuib, she's a 4+,' Logram said quickly.

Jordan nodded. 'Yes. I am fully aware of that, Logram,' he said and then looked at Denise once more. 'You do realise that if you stay here you'll probably remain a more or less passive donor for the rest of your life?' Jordan pointed out to her harshly, 'and any transfers that you do make will be totally inadequate from your point of view?'

        'Not necessarily, Sectuib.' Denise said, joining in the discourse. 'While this planet does not have anywhere near the population one would expect to find on Earth, it's still large and quite well populated. There must be at least one Channel living out there somewhere, who is also a First and has the potential to be a 4+ like me.' She smiled at him. 'I live in hope.'

        Jordan laughed out loud before he said honestly, 'another Gen optimist. I hope you're proved correct, Denise, but I somehow feel you're fooling yourself.' He sighed, 'which will be a waste of a great talent.'

        'Perhaps not a complete waste.' Jason suddenly said, joining in the discourse. Jordan raised an eyebrow at the Gen as he went on, 'are you all forgetting Ryan? Jordan said he was a very late changeover for a Farris, which means – with luck – he could still disjunct if he wants to.'

        'Ryan Farris?' Vidal shook his head. 'Don't even go there, Jason. Oh, I agree he's a Channel and most definitely a First and probably with the potential to be a 4+. Yes. I'll certainly grant you that. But he's also junct and he's been indoctrinated from birth into the philosophy of this planet, which places Gens just one step beneath the dirt under his feet. And even though he could conceivably disjunct, I doubt he will want to. No matter what incentive he might be offered.'

        'I agree with you.' Logram said at once, 'but you've also just described all the other Simes that are living here with us. They're junct and have had the same upbringing – yet they've changed their outlook.'

        Jordan sighed as he said, 'they're all young Simes, Logram. Have you ever considered the fact that many of them are just looking for something new to interest them? And once the novelty of this Householding disappears, they may well revert to their former habits?'

        'More especially, when they realise just how difficult it's going to be to disjunct completely.' Vidal pointed out.

        'Excuse me for asking, but who exactly is this Ryan Farris?' Denise demanded to know, glancing at Jordan. 'I know that there's a Farris family living on this planet. Logram told me. But I know little else about them. Is this Ryan Farris related to the Farrises on Earth by any chance, Sectuib?'

        'Come and we'll explain everything to you over lunch.' Logram said interrupting the conversation.

        'Don't get her hopes up too high, cousin. I doubt very much if the heir to the Farris estates is going to give even a moment's thought to disjuncting.' The Sectuib said with a brief laugh of derision.

        'Normally I would agree with you, Jordan. But remember that you, yourself, told me that Ryan Farris for the very first time in his life had a proper transfer from a genuine Companion. It's not something he'll be able to dismiss lightly. He may not want to change, and he will undoubtedly fight against it. I'll grant you that. But the fact still remains – will he, in the end, be able to turn his back on it?' Logram challenged, looking from one Channel to the other.

        During the rest of that day they were shown around the farm, and the surrounding orchards and fields of crops.

        The evening meal was over and most of the older Gens who had been working hard all day had retired to bed, while the remainder of the Gens together with the Simes and young Arik were playing board games or talking in another room. After awhile Logram, Gynon and Denise led the two Channels and their Companions into a quiet room at the rear of the house, and the conversation once again returned to the subject of Ryan Farris.

        Jordan, who had been studying his cousin for the best part of an hour, said suddenly. 'I can zlin your determination to do something more than just discuss the Farris Channel, Logram. And that being so, perhaps you'd care to tell us what, exactly, you're planning to do?'

        Logram smiled as he admitted, 'yes I've been giving it some thought ever since you told me about him, and to be truthful I would like to have your input into my plans.'

        'The best piece of advice I can give you, cousin, is very simple. Don't even consider approaching Ryan Farris on the subject.' Jordan said earnestly.

        'I have no intention of approaching him about anything.' Logram said at once and the Sectuib gave a sigh of relief. 'I discussed our options with Denise and Gynon before dinner and please, don't laugh – but we thought we might abduct him – bring him back here and after he's taken transfer from Denise for a couple of months we'll ask him to stay.' The two men looked at the Channels and their Companions for their reaction. It was not long in coming.

        Jordan jumped up, knocking his chair over and making absolutely no attempt whatsoever to catch it as, augmenting, he stalked up and down the large room.

        'Are you completely insane?' He demanded finally, as Vidal just sat and shook his head in disbelief.

        Jason gave a nervous laugh as he looked at Logram and said, 'I take it that that was meant as a joke, right?'

        Vidal shook his head again as he said softly, 'no, I'm sorry to say this, Jason, but he appears to means it.'

        Logram zlinned all their reactions before he said with a sigh, 'I'm open to constructive suggestions, you know.'

        'You've already had my suggestion.' Jordan snapped back.

        'Logram, if I may,' Vidal leaned forward earnestly as he said, 'all of us have been on the Farris Genfarm, and please believe me when I say you have no conception of what it is like there.' Turning to look at his still pacing friend, he said quietly. 'Tell him Jordan. Tell him everything that you learned about the place itself. How it is run, and the Farris family on this planet. He has to know what he's dealing with. It's all very well and good being idealistic, but he has to know just how far away Ryan Farris is from any of the Farrises that he has ever known or come into contact with back on Earth.'

        Jordan nodded and began to speak slowly and carefully then as the Sectuib drew his narrative to a close, Logram sat in silence his eyes closed as he absorbed what he had been told.

        Finally he said, 'I think you've all forgotten that although I may no longer belong to Zeor, I, too, am a Farris Channel. I heard about the Farris family and their Genfarms shortly after I first arrived, and decided that it would be best in the circumstances to use my mother's maiden name of Sylvester, in case someone mistook me for one of them.' He paused and then went on. 'Perhaps it is now time to revert to my real name. I can then approach this Ryan Farris, and…'
        'You haven't listened to a word I've said, have you?' Jordan demanded, anger showing in his nager for the first time.

        'Yes I have cousin; but please hear me out before you condemn me out of hand.' His cousin begged as he went on. 'If this Householding is going to be a success, we all know that we must, if possible, have a First in charge. A Second – even a Farris Second like me is just not going to be good enough. Not in the long run.'

        'You're talking about a First who is also a junct. Logram!' Vidal interrupted to say.

        'Perhaps, but I can teach him what I know and so can Denise. She and Rolf were together for five years; and Ryan Farris is, on your own admission, only three months past changeover, including his transfer from Jason. That's what? Two kills since changeover?'

'No. I'd say it is more like three – his mother said that he is always coming up short,' Jordan pointed out bluntly, 'and of course, last time, Jason gave him his first real transfer.'

Logram waved his words aside with the flick of a tentacle as he went on, 'be that as it may, I have copies of a complete range of books covering every aspect of channelling and many other subjects that I brought with me from Earth.' He turned to look across at this cousin as he said, 'I didn't come here unprepared, or half cocked, you know. Look in my office down below. You may be surprised at what you find.'

        'I'm not trying to suggest that you didn't come fully prepared, Logram. As you say, you were a member of my House and are Zeor trained.' Jordan replied. 'You are also a Farris Channel, even though you're not a First. So, I would expect no less from someone of your calibre. But the fact still remains that Ryan Farris is, nonetheless, a very, very dangerous man.'

Jordan paused momentarily and then said, 'let us also say for argument's sake that you succeed in kidnapping him (because that is what you really intend to do), and you bring him back here. Let us also say that Denise gives him transfer for say three – maybe four months – possibly longer. What then? What if he doesn't cooperate and does not wish to disjunct? You can hardly keep him here as a prisoner for the rest of his life.'

        'I've no intention of doing so.'

        'So, what happens if he turns you down?' Vidal demanded to know. 'You won't be able to release him. After all, he'll know all about this place and everyone in it by that time. He's wealthy and powerful, Logram. He'll use every bit of his family's influence to find all of you, no matter how long it takes.'

        'He'll still want to take transfer from Denise.' Logram said stubbornly.

        'Of course he will. That goes without saying.' Jordan muttered, 'but that doesn't mean that he won't just decide to keep her a prisoner to serve his need once he's caught all of you – and believe me – you will eventually be caught.' He paused and then went on, 'unfortunately Denise will probably be the one thing that makes him even keener to catch the lot of you.'

        'More to the point, what do you do if he pretends to be a convert to your cause, and as soon as he is allowed his “freedom,” he calls in the militia?' Jason pointed out grimly.

        Laurie, who had sat in virtual silence during the fiery confrontation, now spoke for the first time as he said softly, 'if you really intend to instigate this plan of yours, Logram, now would be the best time to do it.'

        'Why?' Denise asked a slight frown on her lovely face. Everyone else fell silent as they stared across at Laurie all further words frozen on their lips.

        Laurie glanced at the Sectuib and took note of the irritated look on his expressive face as he said. 'Gynon, do you remember when young Arik came to fetch you from Preston, and you both bumped into Ryan Farris on the way back?'

        'We THINK it was him,' Jordan snapped, 'but we don't know for sure...it could have been anyone.'

        'Jordan please – who else could it have been?' Laurie demanded.

        'You are not being helpful here, Laurie.' Jason said sotto voce.

        'Look, I can't zlin. But it must be obvious to all of you, you included, Jordan that your cousin fully intends to carry out this madcap scheme of his. And that being so, why not try to help him achieve his goal, rather than argue with him all the time? After all, we're not going to be here to see the outcome are we? It isn't going to cause us any grief once we've left here and we've quite literally burnt our bridges behind us…it's up to him then, isn't it?'

        'And that being so – what exactly are you suggesting?' Vidal demanded to know, his voice cold.

        'As I said, when young Arik and Gynon were stopped by the militia, and ultimately bumped into Ryan Farris – he was alone. He did not have, as far as Arik could zlin, anyone else with him, no escort of any description.' Laurie paused and then went on, 'maybe he often rides out alone, but from what Jordan was saying earlier that is doubtful. I think that this time he decided to join in the search himself because he knew that Mary Farris, his mother, would disapprove of what he intended to do. Which quite simply was to bring Jason and I back to the farm for his own personal use.'

        'Allowing that you are correct in all your assumptions, I still don't see where all this is leading.' Jordan snapped.

        'You don't?' Laurie shook his head. 'It's really quite simple. The hunt is still on for us. Ryan Farris is involved in that hunt. This may very well be the only time that Logram will stand any chance of finding him alone, and capturing him.' He looked around at the circle of faces.

        'Thank you very much, Laurie. I'm sure we could all have done very well without your helpful contribution.' Jordan said almost sarcastically as he picked up his fallen chair and flopped down into it again.

        'Jordan, please. At least try being honest with yourself. You know – and we all know that this is nothing more or less than a dichotomy.' Laurie said with a grimace at his friend. 'Logram intends to go ahead with this new Householding come hell or high water. He also intends to try and find himself a First, both to help things along here, and to help Denise.

'Now knowing that it leaves us with two choices. We either help him all we can, or we pour cold water on the whole project and simply walk away.' He paused and then said. 'If you really think that his plans have little or no chance of coming to fruition why the shen did you bother coming to see the set up here at the farm in the first place?'

'After all, we could just as easily have sent him and Gynon on their merry way and returned to the portal. Okay. I know it would have been difficult dodging all the patrols, but it wouldn't be the first time we've had to do something like that. And probably, with any luck, it won't be the last, either. So, I ask you again, why did you bother to come here?'

        'You are sometimes too observant for you own good,' the Sectuib admitted after a moment's thought. 'All right I concede the points you've raised. Perhaps I have been playing Devil's advocate. Yes. I want this to be a viable proposition. Yes. I want it to succeed, but in all honesty I don't see how it can.'

        'It would stand far more of a chance with a First in charge, than it ever will without.' Vidal stated unequivocally, 'and since neither you nor I would willingly remain on this world… What other choice does Logram have but to try and “turn” Ryan Farris to his way of thinking? At least he's still young enough to have a chance at disjunction.'

        Logram looked from one Channel to the next zlinning them as he asked almost desperately. 'So what does all this mean? You're going to help me or not?'

        'Now, just wait a minute everyone.' Jason interrupted quickly. 'I thought that apart from Laurie, we were all agreed that it was a crazy idea to go after Ryan Farris. Now, all of a sudden everything's changed. Well that's fine. I'm all in favour of helping out around here, but not if it means the portal on Earth blows up and we're stuck here. I don't know about all of you, but I don't want that to happen. I really don't.'

        'No one is suggesting that we remain here, Jason.' Laurie said at once. 'You're forgetting that Jordan has a wife and family back on Earth.'

        'Well then what are you suggesting for shen's sake?'

        'One of us will have to return through the portal and stop the timer, and when we eventually return to Earth, we can reset it again.' Vidal said baldly.

        'Why do we have to do that? We've still got over two weeks before it blows.' Jason informed them all.

        'Which sounds good, but since we don't know what will happen to us if we do undertake this crackpot scheme, I think it's better to be safe rather than sorry,' Vidal stated.

        'Okay, fine, I concede your point. So, which one of us goes to do it?' Jason asked, looking at his three colleagues.

        'Two of the renSimes who came with me from Earth are brothers. They are both intelligent young men who are also engineers – and if you explain how the mechanism works and what they must do to dismantle the timer, they can take care of it for us.' Logram said at once.

        'I hate to pour cold water on a wonderful idea, and I don't mean to call your cousin's integrity into question, but I'm afraid I have to.' Jason stated. 'After all, on his own admission he's been coming to this place for the last four years and hasn't said one word to the Sectuib about it. That being so, how do we know that he won't tell these two brothers to go back through the portal but not bother to dismantle the timer, and they just let the bomb blow up on schedule? We'd be stranded here, and he'd have two extra Firsts to run this place, instead of just the faint possibility of one!'

        'That went through my mind, too,' Laurie admitted at once, 'but you're forgetting Jordan and Vidal. They can zlin if Logram is telling the truth – sorry Logram – and I guarantee they'll zlin these two brothers very carefully before they leave here, and if there's any possibility at all that they won't carry out our instructions to the letter, they won't let them go.' He looked across at the two Channels for their agreement.

        'I won't apologise for the thought.' Jason confessed sheepishly to the Second. 'But we can't zlin you, and for all we know you could have been thinking along those lines.'

        'No, I don't blame you.' Logram confessed at once. 'Being a Gen you have no way of knowing what secrets I might have been hiding behind my words. That is totally reasonable. But I'm not a fool and I know that my cousin would have known my intentions almost before they had manifested themselves in my subconscious,' and he smiled across at his cousin, before he said eagerly. 'Can I take it then that you are prepared to help us in this venture?'

        Jordan sighed as he zlinned Laurie. 'I'm sorry to say that it rather looks that way,' he murmured and then glanced across at Vidal, 'do you agree?'

        Vidal raised his eyebrows at his Companion who nodded his head briefly, before Vidal replied, 'I believe the answer to your question is “yes”.'

        'Then we are all agreed. But I have one proviso. I want this over and done with as quickly as possible. I don't think any of us want to stay on this planet for a moment longer than we have to. So I want a promise from you, Logram, Unto Zeor – if we are unsuccessful in our attempt to capture Ryan Farris. You will leave it there, and you will make no other attempt to kidnap him yourself. After all, if we cannot do it this time, when so many things appear to be in our favour, then you must realise that there is very little likelihood that another genuine chance will ever present itself in the future. Do you agree?'

        'But Sectuib…'

        'I said, “do you agree”?'

        'Yes, Sectuib – I swear – Unto Zeor.'

        'You do realise that he won't be part of Zeor once we leave here, and the portal no longer exists.' Jason pointed out.

        Logram looked across at the Gen as he said, with an honesty that even the Gens could read, 'I would never break an Oath that I have given to my Sectuib –even if I am no longer a part of Zeor.'

        Jordan nodded briefly. 'So be it.'

        Dawn was just breaking and the three Sime were still talking. The Gens had dozed off at various times during the long night hours, and had then awoken again only to find that the Simes were still discussing tactics.

        Jason yawned loudly and looked around at the circle of faces as he asked quietly, 'so what's been decided?'

        'Not much.' Vidal confessed at once, switching from Simelan to English without effort, before he looked at all three Gens in turn and asked, 'would you all like a glass of trin?' Denise and Laurie nodded their heads eagerly.

        'I'd love one.' Jason agreed, and then watched as the Sime went to boil the water, before he glanced across at Logram and said, 'I didn't think they grew trin here.'

        'They don't. The first Gens that came here were far more interested in fleeing from the Simes to think of bringing seeds or plants with them. Trin was probably the very last thing on their minds. So I brought the seeds from Earth and we're now growing our own,' the Second confessed. 'I'm sure once the Simes on this world get a taste for it, it might well prove to be a viable commercial opportunity for us in a few years time. Who knows?'

        'Vidal says you haven't got very far with a plan.' Laurie murmured glancing across at Logram, 'just how far have you got?'

        'We've decided that we must send someone to speak to the Home Guard at the outpost near Preston, and also the main garrison at Whetherby.' The Second stated.

        'Why?' Jason asked. 'Surely it would be best to stay away from the military altogether.'

        'They may know something,' the Channel explained. 'Remember, if Ryan Farris is still searching for you and Laurie he may very well call into both places from time to time either to rest, or change his horse, or to find out if they have any news.'

        'But I can't honestly see them telling us even if he's doing that.' Jason said stifling yet another yawn.

        'Not us, no, but apparently one or two of our renSimes know some of the people who man both the outpost and the main garrison and are willing to ask them. We may be lucky – who knows? We can but try.'

        Jason nodded. 'That's true,' he said as he thanked Vidal for the tray of trin he had placed on the table for the Gens to help themselves. 'But what if your renSimes turn us over to the military?'

        Logram bit back a laugh as he said, 'your Companion seems to see traitors plotting against him everywhere he turns, Vidal.'

        Jason blushed bright red as he confessed, 'junct renSimes aren't exactly the sort of people that I would want to trust with my life, and forgive me for saying this, Logram, but that's exactly what we'll be doing!'

        'I'm sure Logram would have zlinned their intentions carefully before he either welcomed them here, or sent them out on a mission.' Jordan said, breaking into the conversation.

        'If you say so.' Jason said still unconvinced, and aware that all the Simes knew it.

        'So has anyone thought about how we're going to get away from here and back to Preston undetected?' Laurie demanded looking around.

        'We have an old gypsy caravan at the bottom end of the orchard,' Gynon informed them, and then explained. 'Logram had it lined with insulation that we brought back from Earth. He then had it put in the orchard primarily so that any Gens working there could go inside for cover if it started to rain; or indeed, if any unknown Simes approached the farm, and they didn't have time to run back to the cellars.'

        'So what use is the caravan to us?' Jason asked as he sipped his trin.

        'Logram tells me that it's road worthy, and it's the perfect place to hide both you and Laurie when we go looking for Ryan.' Vidal said at once.

        'So we're to be included in all this are we?' Jason asked wryly.

        'Would you stay here if we asked you to?' Vidal demanded.

        'No.' The two Gens spoke as one.

        Vidal sighed, 'I didn't think you would.'

        'At least he's learning not to try and exclude us.' Jason said to Laurie with a wide grin.

        'And what about Gynon and I?' Denise suddenly asked from the other side of the table.

        'You'll both remain here.' Logram said firmly, and the two Gens nodded their agreement as they meekly settled back in their chairs.

        Laurie chuckled wryly as he raised his eyebrows at his two fellow Gens and tutted loudly before he said, with a wink in Jason's direction, 'if you carry on like that, you're going to set Jordan and Vidal a very bad example. Wouldn't they just love it if Jason and I accepted their orders so meekly and without a fight?'

        'I think we both know it would be a complete waste of breath for us to even try and coerce you.' Vidal conceded at once, 'which is why we don't bother.'

        'So we return to Preston in the caravan, and then what?' Jason demanded as he drained his cup of trin and placed it back on the tray.

        'We'll just have to play it by ear. If the renSimes return to say that Ryan has been seen in a certain area, then we go there. If not, we shall just have to hope that something turns up.' Jordan stated. 'The caravan, of course, is an added bonus, because if we do find Ryan we have the means to transport him back here.'

        'Oh, goody for us.' Jason observed softly, 'you do realise that he's going to be hopping mad don't you?'

        'Unfortunately, that can't be helped,' the Sectuib conceded at once.
        Four of the renSimes left the farm shortly after daybreak and made their way towards both the outpost and the garrison to see what they could find out before the others arrived.

        Laurie and Jason then instructed the two Amiz brothers on how they should go about disconnecting the bomb from the timer, and then watched as they, too, galloped away.

        'I hope they don't make any mistakes.' Laurie said fervently.

        'So do I.' Jason said with a wary grin.

        After breakfast the caravan pulled away from the farm with the two Gens safely ensconced inside. While the three Channels and two other renSimes – all dressed as gypsies in colourful mismatched clothes – either rode on top of the caravan and drove the horses, or trotted along beside it on horseback.

        'Do you honestly believe that we stand any chance of finding Ryan, let alone capturing him?' Jason finally asked as he tried to make himself comfortable on the hard floor of the caravan.

        'I take it from that remark that you don't.' Laurie said.

        'Not really.'

        'Then why bother to come?'

        'Because if anything goes wrong, I can see the four of us having to make a run for the portal, and quite honestly I think we stand more of a chance if we're all together, rather than being miles apart.' Jason confessed honestly.

        'We may be lucky.' Laurie said hopefully.

        Jason gave a snort of derision as he murmured, 'you know sometimes I think the Channels are correct about us. We can be too bloody optimistic.'

        For the next couple of hours they trundled along in comparative silence, only a few brief words passing between them, until Vidal suddenly poked his head through the canvas at the front end of the caravan to ask how they were doing.

        'Oh, we're having a fantastic time, aren't we, Laurie?'

        'I suppose it could be worse.' Laurie conceded.

        'We're only a few miles away from Preston, so we'll be stopping soon. We've been lucky so far, apart from a couple of farmers, we haven't seen or zlinned anyone.' The Channel informed them, before he disappeared again.

        True to his word, they soon felt the caravan pull off the track onto the grass verge, and within a short time Logram handed glasses of trin to the two Gens, together with a bowl of mixed vegetables marinated in a hot, spicy sauce.

        Late in the afternoon the four renSimes returned. The first two had gone to the main garrison at Whetherby and had nothing to report. The other two had had slightly better luck. Ryan Farris had called into the outpost late last night. His horse had gone lame and he had exchanged his black stallion for a gelding. However the guard on duty there had had no idea whether Ryan would call back for his horse, or if he would send someone else for it.

        'Well, shall we take a chance and wait near the outpost to see if he returns for his horse later...?' Vidal's voice faded away as he looked expectantly around the circle of faces.

        'There isn't really much choice...is there?' Laurie observed.

'Okay fine, we'll sit and wait, just in case he returns. But how long do we wait for?' Jason demanded.

'Logram, I suggest you take the renSimes and wait near the outpost till dawn. If he's not there by then, then I doubt if he'll be coming back.' Jordan said quietly, 'he may even send someone else to pick up his horse.'

'Fine. But what are you doing to do?' The Second asked at once.

'I'll stay here with Jason and Laurie. Vidal has offered to take a tour of some of the taverns in the vicinity, just in case Ryan has visited one of them or is actually staying there.' The Sectuib replied, and then went on, 'to be honest, other than that there's very little we can do. Remember this was only a long shot after all.'

A short while later the Gens watched as Logram and the renSimes disappeared into the early evening mist.

Jason looked up at Vidal as he stood up preparatory to leaving.

'Be careful Vidal,' the Gen said softly, 'no stupid heroics.'

The Channel chuckled as he replied, 'you're telling me that?'

Shortly after Vidal had left the camp, it began to rain starting with just a few drops that within a short space of time turned into a complete downpour that immediately extinguished their small fire. Quickly they moved everything under cover, and Jordan climbed into the caravan to join the two Gens.

'We should have brought a pack of cards or something.' Jason observed. 'It would have helped to pass the time. Laurie, did you notice if there's a candle or an oil lamp anywhere in here?'

'No, I didn't. Sorry.' Laurie confessed at once.

Jason glanced over to where he could just make out the outline of the Channel as he admitted 'it's at times like this that I envy you.'

The Sectuib grinned into the darkness, knowing that neither Gen could see him as he observed, 'I think I'd better move nearer to the entrance. The insulation is very good in here, so good that I can hardly zlin anything outside, not unless I…' He stopped abruptly as someone suddenly banged on one of the wooden caravan struts with what sounded like a piece of metal. As he had no idea whether it was Logram or Vidal who had returned early Jordan immediately changed his nager so that he would zlin as renSime.

Knowing that the two Gens could neither see nor zlin him, but knowing that they had undoubtedly heard the knock from outside, the same as he had – and hoping that they would have the good sense to remain silent – Jordan quickly moved to open the insulated wooden door that he had closed behind him, and push the now sodden piece of material out of his way so that he could zlin out through the opening.

Instantly he was aware of a familiar field and knew at once that Ryan Farris and another Sime were standing out there. As rain did not usually bother Simes, Jordan was not really surprised to find them still out searching the countryside in the downpour.

Quickly he covered his head with the hood he was wearing and then jumped down to stand in front of them, allowing the wooden door to close behind him.

'What do you want?' He asked keeping his head down and hoping that he sounded like a disgruntled gypsy awakened from his sleep, and at the same time trying not to come across as too belligerent.

'How many do you have in there?' Ryan's imperious voice demanded.

'Only my two brothers and me, why, what's up?'

'You've seen no one asking for shelter?'


'There haven't been any strangers around at all?'

'No. What's this all about?'

'None of your shenning business. Just answer the questions,' the other Sime called out, and Jordan saw that he was wearing the uniform of the militia.

        As he answered the questions Jordan's mind was working overtime as he tried to formulate a plan. Standing in front of him was Ryan Farris, but he knew the two Gens inside the caravan were unaware of that since he had not been able to speak or communicate with them to inform them of the fact. Neither did he have a weapon of any description, which meant he could not hold the two men up. He could of course jump Ryan Farris, but that left the Guard who was standing just behind him.

        Shen it, what should he do? He couldn't just allow him to walk away again…

        'You there, stand away from the entrance.' Farris ordered and then said, 'Sargeant, climb in and search the place.'

'Look, you have no right…' Jordan began, only to be pushed unceremoniously out of the way, as the renSime climbed up into the caravan.

For a brief moment the Channel held his breath as he expected to hear a shout when the renSime zlinned the two Gens, but all remained silent.

Farris stepped forward to pick up the soggy piece of material as he leaned towards the entrance and shouted, 'Sargeant, what's going on in there?'

Suddenly presented with Ryan's back as he climbed up into the caravan Jordan decided to take his chance and brought the side of his hand down hard on the other Channel's vulnerable neck – and the Channel fell silently face down on the floor of the caravan. Jordan swung around zlinning Jason as he jumped off the roof of the caravan. The Sectuib grabbed his arm as he landed at his side to stop him from measuring his length in the mud.

'Thanks.' The Gen said looking down at the quagmire surrounding the caravan, 'I was coming to help you.'

'Thank you, but it was unnecessary, and now you're soaking wet,' Jordan said at once.

'So who was it you just hit?'

'Ryan Farris!'

'Ryan…are you sure? Shen it, who said there's no such thing as Lady Luck? I take it he's unconscious?' He asked quickly.

'Yes.' He said and then asked, 'the renSime?'

'Laurie's tying him up.'

'Taking care with his tentacles, I hope,' the Channel said at once.

'Oh, please, Jordan!' Jason snapped back, 'don't try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs.'


'Forget it. Move out of the way so that I can get inside out of this rain. I'm getting even more soaked just standing here.'

Jordan obeyed the instruction with alacrity, and within moments they were all back inside the dark interior.

'This is ridiculous.' Laurie suddenly said, 'there must be a light around here somewhere. I have to do everything by touch.'

'Both of you stay where you are and tie young Ryan up, too, but do not move him,' the Sectuib ordered. 'I'll look for a candle.'

Within moments he had pulled an oil lamp out of a small cupboard and seconds later a warm yellow light filled the dark interior.

'That's better.' Jason murmured as he stared down at their two prisoners and asked, 'so what are we going to do with the renSime?'

'Leave him here when we move on.' Laurie said.

'We can't do that.' Jason said at once.


Before Jason could reply, Jordan pointed out, 'because he saw the caravan, and as soon as he's found by his colleagues, he'll tell the rest of the militia about it. If they don't catch us on the way back to the farm, they will certainly make enquiries – and there can't be all that many caravans in these parts – someone will remember where they've seen this one. And if nothing else, they will come asking questions.' He paused and then went on, 'and in the circumstances, that's the last thing Logram will want to happen.'

Jason nodded his head before he said, 'so, as I said before, what are we going to do with him?'

Suddenly Jordan moved to bend over the renSime as he zlinned and prodded him with his tentacles. 'What did you hit him with?' He demanded finally.

'This, it was the only thing I could find in the dark,' and Laurie picked up a pickaxe handle and waved it under the Channel's nose.

'Hey, be careful of that thing!' Jason yelled as he moved quickly out of the way.


'Unfortunately I don't think we're going to have to worry too much about what to do with the Sargeant,' the Sectuib informed them, 'I doubt he will live till morning.'

'I hate to say it, but I guess that's for the best.' Jason said at once.

'What about him?' Laurie demanded pointing at the Farris Channel who was still unconscious.

'He'll be fine.'

'Good. I just hope he'll be awake by morning.' Laurie murmured.

'Why? Wouldn't it be better if he stays like that until we get back to the farm?' Jason asked.

'From our point of view, yes, it would.' Laurie conceded at once with a wide grin. 'Just as long as you're prepared to nurse him through psychospatial orientation when we get back there – because believe me, I wouldn't like to do it!'

'Shen it. I never gave that a thought,' his fellow Gen confessed ruefully.

'I trust you'd remember if it was Vidal or I lying there, instead of that poor unfortunate,' the Sectuib murmured.

Jason grinned across at the Channel. 'I will, now.' He promised.

Apart from the Amiz brothers who were on their way to the portal and would not be back for at least another two days, everyone else was back at the caravan before dawn.

Vidal was amazed to find Ryan tied up on the floor at the front of the caravan exactly where he had fallen, and while Laurie handed both him and Logram and each of the others a glass of trin. The Sectuib filled them all in on what had transpired while they were away. 'It was just pure good luck.' Jordan finally stated.

'It's a pity we didn't know he was just going to walk up and hand himself over to us, before we went traipsing half way across the country looking for him.' Logram said with a smile of chagrin.

'He hardly handed himself over.' Jason said at once, and then went on, 'how much longer do we have to wait for him to wake up? You must have hit him really hard.'

'No. I didn't,' the Sectuib said with a wry smile at the two Gens. 'He is, in fact, conscious and has been for some time.'

'As a matter of fact Jordan I have been lying here trying to decide why, when my mother was quite prepared to hand over most of my father's estate to you, you have bothered to kidnap me? Obviously it's not for the money.' Ryan said softly.

'No, it isn't,' Jordan conceded as he went to crouch down in front of his distant relative, and said, 'if you will give me your word that you will make no attempt to escape, I am prepared to release you.'

'How do you know he won't just give you his word and…' Jason began only to stop short as the Sectuib looked across at him with one eyebrow raised. 'Sorry,' he said with a sheepish grin, 'of course you'd know. I keep forgetting who you are, don't I?'

'And who is he, exactly?' Ryan asked at once.

Jason ignored the question as Logram looked in through the front of the caravan to say they had buried the Sargeant and were ready to get underway.

Dawn had already broken when they began the long journey back to the farm. Jordan had untied Ryan's hands and now sat beside him in the back of the caravan, together with Vidal and Logram. Jason and Laurie sat facing them, listening intently to the conversation.

'I see that it was a waste of time chasing after them.' Ryan said, nodding towards the two Gens.

'Why would you think that?' Jordan asked at once.

'Well I know for a fact that I took that one myself. But now the other one's empty too.'

'Zlin them.' The Sectuib ordered quietly, 'and you will see that they are both producing selyn even as we speak.'

The Channel obeyed and then asked, 'what are they – a new type of Gen? Ah, of course, I understand now. You've bred a new form of hybrid. Why didn't you just tell the family about it? You didn't have to go to these lengths to get our attention, you know. A Gen who can live through the kill and produce more selyn…now that's got to be worth money. Once people get used to the idea, mind you, a lot of folk will still prefer a proper kill. But it does have “exotic” value.'

The Sectuib sighed as he glanced across at his fellow Channels. It was going to be a lot harder than even he had expected to get through to this distant relative of his.

'Tell him about how things are on Earth.' Vidal suggested quietly, 'explain how we, ourselves, went through a time like this hundreds of years ago. After all, he can't go there and do any harm, so why not tell him the truth?'

The Sectuib glanced across at his cousin, who nodded his agreement.

'Very well,' for the next hour Jordan talked quietly to Ryan, telling him about the time of chaos on Earth, how the Householdings, and then the Tecton, had eventually evolved. He told him about the Wars and the gradual coming together, until now Simes and Gens lived virtually side-by-side.

He was careful not to paint too rosy a picture, and made no attempt to gloss over how hard things had been along the way, as each step on the tortuous path towards their ultimate salvation had been taken.

He told him that even today in this enlightened age, some Simes still hated Gens, and vice versa – but all these groups were in the minority, and there was no way that they would ever again reach supremacy.

Then he pointed out that this planet was now going through the chaos of which he had spoken. Yet they had no Householdings and no mathematicians like Zelerod who could explain to the people what was happening and what was the ultimate outcome for them all, if they did not change their ways.

'Even if I believed all these fairy tales,' Ryan said, 'what the shen do you expect me to do about it? And where's this place “Earth” anyway? I've never heard of such a place.'

Vidal leaned forward as he said earnestly. 'Do you ever look up at the night sky – at the bright lights?'

'Sometimes, but what's that got to do with anything?' Ryan demanded staring at Vidal as though he were crazy.

        'The lights you see are Stars…Suns. Many are like your Sun, and they have planets just like this one spinning around them. We come from one of those planets.'

        'Oh, yes, and Gens can fly, I suppose.' He said with a brief laugh of derision.

        'We can.' Jason said no longer able to keep quiet. 'Not by ourselves, of course, but in machines!'

        'Tell it to shut up! I don't like hearing it talk like that. It isn't natural.'

        'Please, Jason, let us handle this.' Vidal pleaded.

        'Okay, but to be honest I don't think he's prepared to listen to any of you. It's just a waste of breath.' Laurie nodded his head in agreement with his fellow Gen, but remained silent.

        'Have you any more suggestions?' Jordan asked his cousin.

        'Let me explain why I came here and what I hope to achieve, with or without his help.' Logram said earnestly.

        Jordan nodded his agreement and then moved back so that Logram could talk directly to the Farris Channel.

        Laurie moved closer to Jordan and whispered in his ear, 'he's really not interested. If I can see that, why can't Logram zlin it?'

        'Because he doesn't want to,' the Sectuib whispered back.

        'Then he's a fool!' Jason said into Jordan's other ear.

        'No, he's a visionary, and all visionaries have – at some time in their careers – been called idiots. Some simply die on the way to fulfilling their dreams, but some go on to prove their critics wrong. To be honest with both of you, I'm still unsure into which of these two categories my cousin falls.'

        'And you want me to, what? Run this Householding of yours?' Ryan demanded of Logram, with laughter in his voice. 'I take it that this is a joke; but I'm still waiting for the punchline.'

        'No. Not run it, exactly. Not until you're willing to do so. All the administration and general day-to-day work will be done by me and…'

        'Just leave it for now, Logram.' Vidal murmured, as they all saw that Ryan had stopped listening. 'Just let him think about it for a while, and absorb what we've already told him.'

        Logram bit his lip and nodded his head as he leaned back and closed his eyes.


        They arrived back at the farm to find that the ones they had left behind had prepared a meal for them.

        Later as they all sat down together at the long wooden table, all the Channels noticed that while Ryan studiously ignored the Gens who were talking and laughing with the renSimes. Ryan was, nevertheless, zlinning them with obvious curiosity.

        Several times they tried to draw him into their conversations, but without success. After the meal Logram and several of his followers took the Channel down to a small room that had been prepared for him next to the renSimes' and Channels' quarters.

        It was simply but comfortably furnished with a bed, desk, chair and bookcase on to which Logram had placed some of the books he had brought from Earth regarding the history of Householdings and Channels.

Alongside these were several papers that had been written about both the mathematician Zelerod – who had first discovered that if society went on killing, and did not change its ways, then – sooner or later – the number of Gens left to kill would exactly match the number of Simes who were seeking a kill. Once this parity happened, the only answer would be annihilation on both sides; and Ediva ambrov Dar, who after his death, had carried on his work.

'I thought these books might help to pass the time for you, as well as explain in far greater detail, what I tried to tell you in the caravan.' Logram said at once. 'Mind you they are only modern copies of the original texts.'

Ryan picked up one of the books opened it and glanced almost disdainfully at the typeface before he closed it again. 'I can't read that,' he said at once.

'No. I didn't expect you to. Not at once.' Logram pointed out, 'but you are in First Year, which means you'll be able to pick it all up very quickly once Denise or I show you how to read it. As a matter of fact, I'm having the same difficulty reading some of your literature and newspapers. Perhaps you could teach me?' He said hopefully, 'although of course I'm not in First Year, far from it, so you'll have to have patience with me.'

The young Farris Channel snorted rudely but made no reply to the suggestion.         

Vidal, meanwhile, examined the Sime-proof locks and bolts on the outside of the door and then nodded his head as he murmured, 'excellent, he will find it impossible to escape from there.'

        Later as they all sat in the lounge, on the upper level, the conversation turned once more to Ryan Farris.

        'I noticed the reading material you've chosen for him,' the Sectuib observed. 'I couldn't have chosen better, myself.'

        'Well, I rather hope that once he gets tired of his own company, he may well decide to try and read something simply to pass the time, if for no other reason.' Logram admitted honestly.

        'It's worth a try.' Vidal conceded as he stretched his tentacles and then retracted them slowly.

        'Anything is worth a try.' Laurie agreed as he poured himself another glass of fruit juice, 'but whether any of these things will one day make him start thinking for himself, instead of just reacting to his indoctrination, is anyone's guess.'

        'We have to succeed. So much depends on it.' Logram said, urgency apparent in his voice.

        'I hope it works for you. I truly do.' Jordan admitted to his cousin.

        'I know you do, Jordan.' Logram said looking across at his Sectuib with affection. 'You've all helped me far more than I ever had the right to expect, and I'm grateful.'

        'I don't think I would expect too much, too soon as far as Ryan is concerned.' Vidal warned quietly.

        'I don't. And all I shall do in the beginning is allow him to see our way of life, give him time to read some of the books I've left for him, and be prepared to answer any questions that he may raise. Apart from that…' he shrugged his thin shoulders expressively.

        'I think Denise should spend some time with him, too.' Gynon stated, 'after all, she'll be giving him transfer.'

        'Yes. I was coming to that.' Logram said, 'transfer may well be the key to keeping him here.'

        'He's very sure of himself – and arrogant.' Denise admitted breaking into the conversation. 'I felt him zlinning me at table tonight, and he wasn't exactly friendly.'

        'I don't suppose we can expect him to be,' one of the younger Gens called Tylar who came from Earth said as he glanced around, 'after all, how would you –or any of us feel – if we'd just been kidnapped, and then dragged here against our will; and on top of that we're then asked to abandon the way of life we're used to and adopt a whole new and alien one…'

        Jason laughed out loud as he admitted honestly, 'I'd be pissed.'

        'So would I!' Tylar turned to look across at Logram as he went on, 'If we're truthful with ourselves, we have to admit that it's going to take at least a year, possibly a great deal longer before we finally break through that hard shell he's surrounded himself with.'

        'The trouble is you don't have a year. Not a full one, anyway. You have to disjunct him well within that time. Remember, he's already three months past changeover.' Jason pointed out.

        'And at the end of it all, if you're not successful, you're still going to have a junct Channel on your hands.' Laurie said bluntly.

        The Sectuib nodded his head slowly in agreement and then added, 'I think you have to remember, too, Laurence – we all have to remember, that this is not present day Earth. It is in fact Earth probably around the time of chaos. How do you think the first Householdings started up? Do you honestly believe that all the Channels that ran them had never killed before? Of course they had – probably many times, too! They all had to start out that way – remember Rimon Farris; and many decades later there was Risa ambrov Keon who became Sectuib of the House of Keon – Klyd Farris wrote that, in the beginning she, too, was junct.'

         'In other words: you can only cut your garment, from the cloth that you have.' Laurie said with a brief laugh.

        'Precisely. But I guess what I'm trying to say is really quite simple, Logram. Don't be put off if progress in the beginning seems to be slow and painful where Ryan is concerned. You just have to keep trying again and again to reach him, and then one day – if you're really lucky – he may start to respond.' Jordan paused for a moment and then said quietly, 'but you will also have to face the possibility that whatever you may do, he might never respond, not in the way you expect.'

        'And if that is, indeed, the final outcome, then you'll be faced with the hardest decision of all.' Jason said softly, 'what do you do with him for the rest of his short life? Because you'll never be able to let him go free, will you? Not if you want both you, and everyone else here, to be safe.'

Later in the room that he and Vidal had been allocated Jason murmured to his partner, 'I didn't want to put a dampener on the proceedings upstairs, but we're never going to know the outcome of all this – are we?'

        'I trust you aren't suggesting by that remark, that we leave the portal open?' Vidal replied at once as he turned to stare at his partner.

        'Never! That's one thing we mustn't do.' Jason said with utter conviction in his voice.

        'Good, you had me worried there for a moment.'

        'But from the way Jordan was speaking…'

        Vidal shook his head decisively as he said firmly, 'the Sectuib is merely in sympathy with the task that his cousin has set himself, but when weighing this world against our own, there is no competition at all. He would never consider allowing the portal to remain open. Not under any circumstances. The ramifications of it being misused are too awful to contemplate, especially now.'

Jason grimaced as he listened to his partner's words before he said, 'can you imagine what would happen back on Earth if news of junct Simes running around loose on this planet ever reached the breakfast tables?'

        'I shudder to think.'

        Two days later Logram informed them that the Amiz brothers had returned safely from their mission through the portal; and Jordan informed their host that they really had to start making arrangements to leave.

        'Are you sure it's safe enough to do so? The militia will still be out scouring the country.' Logram pointed out at once. 'Perhaps you should wait a few days more?'

        Denise joined in the conversation as she said, 'and remember, Sectuib, if Ryan Farris has now been posted as missing, they will almost certainly be scouring the countryside looking for him, too.'

        'Very well – perhaps another two or three days, just to let the hue and cry die down a little.' Jordan conceded with a quick glance at his colleagues for their agreement.

        During the next few days Jordan and Vidal took it in turn to spend time with the junct Channel teaching him how to read the typeface on the books, while Logram took him on a guided tour of the farm showing him all the facilities.

        On the morning of the fifth day Jason and Laurie who had been helping out in the orchard entered the house to find Denise and the Channels talking to Ryan Farris whose voice was raised in anger. 'I fully intend to kill it.' The junct Channel promised threateningly, an evil smile touching his expressive lips.

        'You can try.' Denise said with a gentle smile. 'I'm looking forward to it. It's a long time since I had a decent transfer – oh… I'm sorry, Logram. I didn't mean to infer that you…'

        The Second laughed softly as he waved his tentacles dismissively. 'I'm well aware of how inadequate I am, my dear.' He glanced across at Ryan. 'You're a very lucky man.'

        Ryan Farris stared back at him as a sneer crossed his handsome face and he laughed harshly as he said, 'yes, of course. I was forgetting the added bonus.'

        All the other Channels looked at him in confusion as he went on, 'if the Gen lives I get to bed it as well – that has to be a worth something doesn't it?' And then as his audience continued to stare at him in shock and anger he went on, 'to see it open its long legs and wrap them around…'

        'Shut up!' Logram shouted, 'How dare you! – Denise my dear, I am so sorry…'

        'It's all right, Logram… really it is.' Denise said at once as she met Ryan Farris's insolent stare with one of her own, before she deliberately let her lovely eyes drop to his crotch as she said quietly, 'only someone who is sexually inadequate would speak like that, and he knows it. Now if you will excuse me, gentlemen.' Then with a dignified nod of her head she left the room.

        'How dare you speak to your transfer partner in that manner.' Jordan was appalled.

        'It isn't any sort of a partner to me. It's just a Gen who's going to supply me with selyn… and sex… nothing more.'

        Logram and Jordan both leaned forward to speak, but Vidal waved them back as he said softly, 'you are a very foolish and ignorant young man, Ryan Farris. Even though you have given her nothing but rudeness and insults, Denise will undoubtedly still give you transfer because she is a good Companion and will honour her obligations.'

'She might even have given you more than that afterwards if you were extremely lucky, but not now my friend. You've blown all chance of that ever happening, right out of the water. Unless, of course, you learn to be very, very humble and apologise to her – but to be honest with you, I don't think you have that much common sense.' The Channel stood up and looked at his friends. 'I believe lunch is being served, gentlemen. Shall we go?'

        That night Jordan announced that he felt they should leave the farm the following day.

        Vidal gave a brief grimace as he agreed with his friend and then said hopefully. 'I think we are all aware of the dangers, but then again Ryan isn't around to encourage the military to keep looking for us – and besides they might not even be aware that he's gone missing yet. Indeed, we may slip through their lines, unseen, during a lull in their operations.'

        The Sectuib chuckled as he looked across at this friend and said, 'correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we once say that only Gens are born optimists?'

        Vidal smiled as Jordan hesitated and then turned to Logram to say, 'if you agree, I would like to have a brief word alone with your guest, before we leave.'

        His cousin looked at him with curiosity, but asked him no questions as he nodded his head in agreement.

        A short time later, having left the others to prepare everything for the long journey, Jordan walked into Ryan's small room and closed the door quietly behind him. He looked across at the Channel lying on the bed, one of Logram's prized books held negligently in his tentacles.

        Familiar dark eyes looked him up and down with obvious scorn as Ryan asked, 'and what do you want Sectuib – that is what you call yourself, isn't it?'

        'Just a few words with you before I leave,' the Sectuib replied with a brief smile.

        'And where are you going? To this Earth place I've heard so much about?'


        'When I get a way from here – and I will get away – I may just bring a number of militia and come after you,' the Channel threatened.

        'It would be a futile exercise my friend, since the portal that we came through will no longer be there.'

        'Portals to other worlds. Gens flying around amongst the Stars. Simes called Channels who don't kill…' He threw the book he had been reading down onto the floor with anger as he went on, 'I'm not a child. How many more stories like this do you expect me to believe?'

        The Sectuib walked across and picked up the book, smoothed the cover almost reverently with a tentacle and placed it back on the shelf, before he said, 'whether you believe what you are reading between the covers of this book or not, at least show a little care for the fact that your host can never replace it – if for no other reason.' He said quietly.

        'Are you telling me that everything in these books is true? That it actually happened?'

        'No history book is one hundred percent true or accurate for that matter, since most were written decades – in some cases – centuries after the events actually happened. And history, like most things in life, will always be effected by the politics of the day and what emphasis or slant is required to be placed on particular people or events at the time...' Jordan paused.

'I would imagine that even on this world, history was first handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Long before someone took the time or the trouble to write it all down? If, indeed, they have already started to do so,' he murmured.

        Ryan remained silent as the Sectuib went on earnestly.

        'I'm not saying that everything that happened on Earth in our past is certain to happen here. But I am saying that if things do not change here, and change radically, then there is a strong possibility that your world, too, will be faced with total annihilation as ours once was.'

'When all the Gens on your world are finally killed, Sime will fight Sime, until the last Sime will look out onto an empty land in the sure knowledge that he faces not just a lonely life, but no life at all – death by attrition with no Gen to turn to is not a happy prospect.' Jordan hesitated.

'Only Channels like you and me, Vidal and Logram, can turn the tide of such horror. Only we can stand between the ordinary Simes and sure and certain death. Read the books that Logram has loaned you. Learn from the history of our planet, and apply what you read there to your own world.'

'Someone has to start somewhere, Ryan. On Earth the Farris family – almost from the very beginning – accepted that burden, and believe me it is a burden. Don't think that you'll be covered with glory, because you won't. Indeed, most people will either hate you or envy you. Very few will praise you. Yet, it's a job worth doing. Accept your destiny, Ryan. Don't turn away from it lightly – because if you do, you will condemn both yourself and your people to certain death.'

'And whether you ultimately decide to throw in your lot with Logram or not; at least do something with your life. Don't just leave things as they are, or it'll be too late for all of you.'

        Zlinning the Channel deeply, Jordan still could not tell if he had reached him or not, but at least he had tried. Biting back a sigh he turned abruptly and left the room, glad that this man at least would not be his responsibility.


        Jason had suggested that they leave the next day in the late afternoon when it was starting to grow dark, but the Channels had vetoed that idea. Pointing out that it would make no difference to the indigenous Simes whether it was day or night, at least as far as zlinning either Jason or Laurie was concerned.

        Laurie looked across at Vidal as he asked, 'where's young Arik?'

        'He's not coming with us.' Vidal said at once.

        'He's not? But I thought Jordan was going to see if he could get him into Rior or…'

        'I suggested that, but he prefers to stay here with Logram on his own world; and he wants to disjunct.' Jordan stated.

        'He does!?' Jason's handsome face mirrored his amazement as Arik suddenly walked out into the sunlight and Jason called across, 'Jordan tells us you're going to disjunct.'

        'I shall try.'

        'If anyone can succeed, you can.' Jason said at once. 'You're a tough little fellow.'

        Laurie walked across and held out his hand Gen style, 'good luck, Arik,' the renSime hesitated only for a brief moment and then placed his own hand into Laurie's.

        Goodbyes finally said all around the four men were soon on the road. At the moment they were doubled up on the two mares, but once they left the farm behind the two Gens knew that they would have to walk. It was not a prospect either man was looking forward to.

        As they trotted along the dirt track Jason suddenly remembered something and said, 'there's one thing we forgot to ask.'

        'What's that?' Laurie called from the other horse.

        'We never did find out what “Arik the Great” meant.'

        'Do you want to go back and ask?' His fellow Gen called across facetiously.

        'No way! I can live without knowing.' Jason admitted with a grin.

A short while later Jason asked Vidal whether they were going to stay at the same taverns that they had used before.

'I think not.' It was Jordan who replied.

'Why's that?'

'Since we stayed with them, they may well have heard about the rewards being offered for us,' the Channel pointed out. 'I think it's a little too risky.'

'In that case, wouldn't it be more logical for us to split up each night and stay at different hostelries?' Jason demanded of his three colleagues and was surprised when they all agreed with him, without further argument.

However, moments later Laurie qualified their decision by observing, 'If it's a dry night we could camp out and avoid the taverns altogether?'

By mutual agreement they kept well clear of the town of Preston, giving it a wide berth as they skirted around the environs with the two Gens walking.

Everything was going fine until Laurie tripped over a stone and wrenched his ankle. Unfortunately, he was walking through a village at the time so had to put up with it in silence knowing that the Sectuib would be working overtime to keep his Companion's pain from bleeding into the ambient, and affecting the small number of renSimes that they passed on the street.

Once they were clear of the small settlement the two Channels quickly spotted a convenient stopping place in the middle of several large rocks, and Jordan immediately set to work on the injured ankle.

'Try to be more careful next time,' he chided gently as his tentacles released the abused limb and he sat back. 'How does that feel?'

'Fine, thanks,' the Gen glanced across at the other Channel who was standing with his tentacles extended, as though deep in thought, 'is it still all clear up a head Vidal?'

'Yes, but let us stay here and eat, then we won't have to stop again till it gets dark.'

'Fine by me.' Jason said at once from his position on the grass, 'I'm starved.'

Vidal glanced down at the Gen a slight grin playing around his lips, but he kept a discreet silence as he joined his partner on the ground.

Jordan and Vidal each munched on a handful of nuts, while the Gens ate some of the provisions that Logram had provided them with, and then passed around one of the large bottles of slightly warm, but refreshingly tart, fruit juice.

'I shalln't even begin to feel safe till we're on the other side of the Hollow Mountains.' Laurie observed as he placed the bottle back into one of the baskets.

'Personally, I'm rather surprised that we haven't yet zlinned any patrols,' Vidal observed.

'To be honest I think I would be more surprised if we had.' Jason confessed, 'after all, when you think about it, I would imagine the militia have moved well away from here by now. Even they aren't stupid enough to keep searching the same area again and again, surely.'

        'Let's hope you're correct.' Vidal murmured.

        Before they left the plains behind, they picked up several pieces of firewood and logs to burn on their fire that night. Darkness was already falling when they finally reached the foothills of the Hollow Mountains range. All four men gave silent sighs of relief as they advanced deeper among the rocks towards comparative safety.

        'Do you intend to use the same track going back?' Jason called.

        'If no one has any objections, then I can see no reason why not,' the Sectuib observed.

'Yes, it served its purpose well enough the first time.' Vidal agreed as he and his fellow Sime zlinned the way ahead, as far as they were able.

'I'm just glad that this time we haven't got to drag the horses up that narrow track to the plateau.' Jason confessed with a weary grin.

'We'll make our way a few hundred yards deeper into the mountains and then stop for the night.' Jordan stated as his horse lead the way between two large outcrops of rock.

As they progressed along the track the mountains on either side of them appeared to close in, and it became pitch black as the first Moon to rise that night was hidden by a large bank of clouds. The Gens could only walk confidently forward at the rear of the mares because they knew that both Channels were able to zlin their way ahead by the light of their nagers, and would, therefore, not lead them inadvertently into danger.

'How much further, Vidal?' Jason called out.

'Stay here, both of you, while Jordan and I go ahead and get a fire started. At least then you'll both be able to see.'

Jason heard the Sectuib dismount and walk away in the dark, before he turned to where he assumed his fellow Gen was standing to say, 'how's the ankle?'

'No problem, but I'm fed up with all this walking.'

'Tell me about it.' Jason chuckled softly before he said 'remind me to bring a pair of roller skates next time.'

'A skateboard might be preferable. Come on it looks like they've got the fire going,' Laurie observed as he and Jason led the horses towards the source of light and heat.

'I'll take care of them.' Vidal said as he took the reins of the two horses and lead them to a small patch of grass that was fed by the trickle of a mountain stream; before he and Jordan began to rub them down.

The two Gens sat down beside the brightly burning fire with a deep sigh of content. 'I don't know about you Laurie, but I'm too tired to eat.' Jason confessed.

'Me, too. Let's just rest for a few minutes and eat later.'

'Good idea.' They both lay back on the hard rock floor and Jason stared up at the small patch of dark sky that he could now make out between the tops of the mountains. Finally he closed his eyes.

'They're asleep,' Jordan observed as he patted the mare before he placed a nosebag full of oats over her head.

'They haven't eaten.' Vidal said at once, 'should we wake them?'

'No, they're physically exhausted. Rest will do both of them more good than food at this present moment in time. They'll make up for it later.'

Vidal laughed across at his friend, 'there's little doubt about that.' he observed lightly.

'You know I hate it when I zlin that they're getting more tired by the hour, while we're riding.' Jordan confessed honestly before he went on, 'at least tomorrow while we're making our way through the mountains, they can both ride.'

         'Things have gone really well so far,' Vidal murmured as he stirred the embers of the small fire and placed another log on top.

        Jordan gave a brief bark of laughter as he said to his colleague, 'as Laurie would no doubt remind you, don't press your luck. We're not out of the woods yet.'

        The two Gens woke early the next morning just as dawn was breaking both of them were stiff from lying on the unforgiving rock floor, and hungry. Vidal was sitting cross-legged leaning against a small outcrop of rock. Laurie glanced around but could not see his partner, 'where's Jordan?'

        'He's gone a little further up the track to see if he can find a vantage point to zlin our way ahead.' Vidal said at once as he watched the two Gens delve into one of the baskets as they decided what to eat for breakfast.

        'Have you and Jordan eaten?' Jason demanded to know as he accepted a large wedge of fruitcake from Laurie.

        'We ate last night, which is more than you did.' The Channel stated and Jason opened his mouth to retaliate when Vidal went on, 'I promise we'll both eat something more when we stop at midday.'

        Laurie stood up, 'As Jordan's not back yet, I'm going to soak my feet in that small stream before we move on. I would've done it last night, but I was too tired. Are you coming, Jason?' The two men made their way to where the horses were waiting patiently – pulled off their socks and placed their feet into the tiny trickle of ice cold mountain water.

        'At least you'll both be able to ride today.' Vidal called across to them and received a grunt by way of reply.

        A short while later the Sectuib arrived back and the two Gens pulled on their socks and shoes and then climbed onto the broad backs of the gentle mares.

        'Last night your sleep appeared to be troubled.' Vidal suddenly observed glancing at his Companion in query. 'I thought about waking you up, but the Sectuib said that disturbed sleep was better than no sleep at all.'

        'I had an unpleasant dream.' Jason confessed. 'It's strange but when the dream's okay, I forget what I've been dreaming about, but when it's something that I'd much prefer to forget. I remember every single detail.'

        'So what was it about?' Laurie demanded to know before he went on. 'Personally, I think you're lucky. I never dream at all.'

        'Yes, you do, you just don't remember them,' his fellow Gen said at once. 'Everyone dreams. You'd be ill if you didn't.'

        'Never mind about that for the moment. What was your dream about?' Laurie asked again, curiosity evident in his voice.
        'We were making our way to the portal, and when we got there we found that it was no longer there…'

        'You mean the Amiz brothers had blown it up after all?'

        Jason nodded his head before he said, 'I'm not sure exactly what happened next, but I think when we left there to go back to Logram's place we were captured.'

        Laurie whistled shrilly through his teeth as he murmured, 'it sounds more like a nightmare than a bad dream.' He hesitated a moment and then asked, 'you don't really think they could have destroyed the portal, do you?'

        'I sincerely hope not.' Jason said fervently. 'If they have I'll go back and strangle the pair of them.'

        'And I'd help you do it.'

        'What a bloodthirsty pair you both are.' Jordan said at once.

        Jason glanced across at the Sectuib as he said suspiciously, 'I know we've always assumed that you and Vidal can zlin when someone is lying to them, but have you ever been wrong?'

        Laurie broke into laughter as he turned to his partner for support, 'now that really is a farfetched idea, don't you agree, Jordan?'

        The Channel remained silent.

        'Jordan, I said…'

        'I heard you, Laurie.'

        The Gen's face drained of all colour as he said, 'are you trying to tell me…?'

        'Enough! Stop it, Jordan, he actually believes you for shen's sake.' Vidal said to his friend with a broad grin. 'Stop teasing him.'

        'I'm sorry,' the Sectuib said at once, contrition in his voice, 'you were both so earnest that I really couldn't resist.'
'Okay – apology accepted.' Jason said speaking for them both, 'but just to make sure that we've got this straight Sectuib; you're sure – really sure – that the portal is still going to be there, exactly where we left it – right?'

'I'm as sure as it is possible to be, yes. Are you satisfied?'

The two Gens were silent for a moment or so, and then Laurie said, 'not as clear cut as I would have liked, but I suppose I'll have to accept that answer.'

For the next hour they rode on in silence, and every few miles one or other of the Channels would climb up onto the rockface and zlin their way both ahead and behind.

Just as it was getting dark again, they reached the end of the trail that would finally lead them out of the Hollow Mountains and out into the desert proper. However, they decided that they would be better off spending the night inside the mountains rather than enter the desert region at night, so they set up camp again.

The two Gens were settling down to sleep and the Channels were talking softly together when both the silence and the darkness were suddenly shattered as a crowd of both male and female Gens suddenly attacked them.

At first Jason was totally disorientated as a mass of bright lights appeared to close in on both he and Laurie while at the same time screams issued from their attackers' throats sounding rather like banshees.

It was not until they were much closer that both men realised that their attackers were wearing miner's helmets on their heads with bright lights attached to the front of them while the rest of their clothes were as black as the night itself. The only other thing that they all knew for certain was that these people were Gen and not Sime.

Even as he and Laurie recovered from the shock and sprang to their feet, Gen nets settled over them both and within seconds they were rolled onto their stomachs their hands and feet were fastened and a smelly piece of rag was used to tie around their mouths. Finally, they were lifted up and carried off into the darkness as silence fell once more.

Jason knew that Laurie was being carried along in front of him, but he could not see or hear anything from the two Channels. He could only hope that they were both still alive.

        After a few minutes, Jason realised that they were no longer on the surface of the mountain, but inside it. Then as the air became heavy and warm they knew they were being carried deeper and deeper into the catacomb of caves that the Hollow Mountains were known for. Eventually they were carried into one of the larger caves and dumped, none too gently, onto the hard floor. Their captors then released them, first undoing both their feet and hands.

        'Are we prisoners?' Laurie asked as he spat the taste of the dirty rag that had been used to bind his mouth onto the floor; and stared up at the largest of the men.

        'For the time being. There's a guard outside the door so don't cause any trouble and you'll be all right.'

        'Where are the two…Simes?' Jason demanded.

        'Don't worry they can't hurt either of you now.'

        'I wasn't worried about…' Jason began.

Only to have Laurie interrupt him to say in a frightened voice, 'are you sure they can't get away and capture us again?'

'Like I said, don't worry about them. Rest awhile and when he comes back with the food. Erich will speak with you.'

'Are the Simes still alive?' Jason asked quietly.

'They are, for the moment.'

'Why keep them alive?' Laurie demanded to know.

'If they are worth anything to their people then they might be ransomed. If not, we'll have some fun with them before we slit their throats.' The Gen said ominously.

'And what's going to happen to us?' Laurie asked in a tremulous voice hamming it up for all he was worth.

'We're not going to kill you, so rest easy. We aren't murdering snakes,' the man said at once with vehemence in his tone. 'You'll probably get the chance of staying here and joining us or being sent on your way.' With a brief nod of reassurance the man disappeared out of the cave.

'I suppose it could be worse.' Laurie said in a whisper.

'How do you work that out?' Jason murmured sarcastically.

'They could be Sime.'

'Yes, I'll have to give you that one.'

The two men fell silent for several minutes.

'So what do we do? Wait until this Erich comes back to visit, or make our move now?' Jason finally asked, softly.

'If we wait for Erich he may very well come back with more Gens. Besides we don't know that he won't see Jordan and Vidal and decide their fate before he bothers with us.' Laurie pointed out quietly.

'True. So what? We try our luck now – yes?'

'Yes.' Laurie breathed before he crawled towards the entrance to the small cave, but before he could look out into the passageway, a young Gen stepped into the opening and stared down at him. 'Water – can we have some water please? We haven't had any since this morning.' Laurie immediately begged, hoarsely.

'I'll fetch some.' The boy disappeared from sight, and Laurie crawled back to Jason's side.

'I'll try to get him to bring it into the cave, and then whichever one of us has the best opportunity can jump him.'

'You realise, I suppose, that if this doesn't work, we'll have quite literally burned our bridges behind us?'

'I know. But have you got a better plan?' Laurie demanded.


'Then shut up. He'll be back soon.'

They both fell silent with Laurie still lying down on the floor and Jason standing beside him.

        The youth entered the cave carrying a flask of water. 'Is he ill?' He asked looking down at Laurie. I can fetch Shilgo. She understands herbs.'

        'I think all he requires is water, but thanks anyway,' Jason said making no attempt to take the water from his hand.

        The boy moved a little closer before he bent to put the flask onto the floor beside Laurie. As he did so Jason's left fist hit him hard in the stomach and he immediately doubled over enabling Jason to flatten him with an uppercut. Catching the youth Jason lowered him gently to the floor.

        'Nicely done.' Laurie said as he jumped quickly to his feet, picked up the flask and drank half the water avidly before he handed the rest to Jason.

        'Yes, but he was so trusting. I hated having to do that,' Jason admitted as he finished off the water. 'What can we use to bind him?'

        'I suppose we could use his belt to fasten his ankles and his shirt should take care of his hands.' Laurie pointed out, and then searching through the boy's pockets he found a piece of rag they could fasten around his mouth. They stood back to inspect their handiwork as Laurie said, 'good, that should keep him quiet for a while.'

        Jason picked up the lamp that had belonged to their young guard before the two men crept to the entrance. Moments later they were both moving down the empty passageway. The rock walls were roughly hewn and they could not tell whether they had originally been made by nature, or man. Water dripped down in places and the whole place smelled musty.

        'Imagine calling this place home.' Jason murmured after a while.

Laurie nodded his head before he whispered, 'I'm beginning to wonder if we've come the wrong way. None of the caves we've passed, so far, look “lived” in, if that's the right word to use. Perhaps we should have turned left instead of right.'

        'Let's go back then, before we go too far.' Jason said at once, and they both turned and retraced their steps.

        'This place is like a rabbit warren.' Laurie said softly, 'no wonder the Gens hide in here.'

        Jason remained silent for several minutes and then said, 'I'm wondering what we're going to do once we find them.'


        'How we find our way out of here, after all, we won't be able to rely on their zlinning abilities to reach the outside,' he slapped the nearest rock wall with one of his hands, 'we're surrounded by this shenning stuff on every side.'

        'Let's find them first. We'll worry about how to get them out of here, later.' Laurie retorted at once as he began to pick up the pace.

        Suddenly as they reached the next corner he stopped, and Jason ran straight into him, 'Umph!'

        'Shh!' Laurie turned holding one finger against his lips before he mimed, 'Guards.' Both Gens momentarily froze, and then they both turned and tiptoed back down the corridor and into the nearest cave.

        'How many are there?'

        'Two – as far as I could tell, they're just standing there guarding the entrance to one of the caves.' Laurie informed him in a whisper.

        'So what do we do?'

        'Well, I suppose it could be Jordan and Vidal in the cave.' Laurie pointed out quickly. 'On the other hand, of course it, could be anyone, couldn't it?'

        'Yeah. I suppose so.' Jason admitted reluctantly.

        'Well, come on, we'd better think up a plan of action quickly before they discover that we've escaped and they decide to triple the guards on all their prisoners.' Laurie reminded him with a tight smile.

        'Shut up. I'm thinking.'

        'I wonder if we could get away with a straight forward approach,' Laurie murmured thoughtfully as Jason raised his eyebrows in query. 'We could try just walking right up to them. After all, with any luck they might not be the same Gens who captured us, so they won't know what we look like. On top of that we're Gen, not Sime, so they won't be expecting any trouble from us will they? Come on, it's worth a try.'

        Jason stared at his fellow Gen for a few moments before he nodded his head slowly in agreement as he confessed, 'yes, it's certainly worth a try – especially since we have no better ideas on the table.'

        Laurie grinned mirthlessly again as he said, 'let's do it then before they find us missing and sound an alarm or whatever it is that they do around here.'

        The two men exited the cave and crept back down the corridor for fifty yards or so, and then turned around and began to walk back towards the Gen guards. This time they talked normally as though they had every right to be there. Arriving at the last bend in the passageway they did not slow their pace but walked straight around the corner, and approached the two guards who were both looking towards them but without any apparent suspicion.

        'You're early,' the nearest guard called out, 'we didn't expect to be relieved for another hour.'

        'We can always go away again and come back later.' Jason said with a broad smile.

        'Never look a gift horse in the mouth is my motto,' the second guard said at once. 'Besides, I'm starved.'

        'They give you any problems?' Laurie asked as he pointed towards the entrance to the cave.

        'No, they've been really good,' the first guard said with a laugh, 'mind you, it might be because Louie put one of them to sleep for a while,' and the first guard lifted his cudgel and swung it menacingly by way of demonstration.

        Both Laurie and Jason glanced at each other in horror as they listened to the guard, both men wondering whether it was Vidal or Jordan who had been silenced in such a manner.

        Seconds later the two guards walked off down the long passageway without a backward glance.

        'Talk about luck of the devil,' Jason whispered to his friend.

        Laurie closed his eyes momentarily before he agreed with Jason's words and then said, 'If it's them, I just hope they haven't been hurt too much.'

        'Is it safe to go inside yet?'

        Laurie stared up and down the corridor listening as the Gens' footsteps disappeared in the distance. 'I think its okay, let's go.'

        This cave, unlike the one they had been incarcerated in, had a roughly made wooden door. It would not stop a Sime from zlinning through it, nor would it keep a Sime inside if he or she chose to leave; but it obviously gave the Gens who stood on guard outside in the corridor a feeling of safety and security, no matter how misplaced that feeling might actually be. Thankfully there was no lock on the door, only large bolts that once drawn back allowed the door to swing open on its hinges.

        The two Gens stepped inside. It was pitch black and only the soft glow from Jason's lamp lit the interior, as he swung it around trying to illuminate the cave.

        'Laurie…Jason…how did you get here? I zlinned you in the corridor but I couldn't believe it was you.' Vidal's voice broke the silence, as Jason's flashlight showed them the Sime chained to the wall.

        'Is the Sectuib with you?' Laurie asked at once looking into the gloom on both sides.

        'He's on the floor over there.' Vidal whispered as Jason approached him to look at the chains.

        Laurie moved across and fell to his knees beside Jordan as he asked, 'what's wrong with him? Is he badly hurt?'

        'He was hit on the head.' Vidal explained quickly, 'as far as I can zlin from here he's alive but unconscious.'

        'Shen, what are we going to do? We have to get out of here and that means moving him…' Laurie began.

        'The three of us should be able to carry…' Jason began, only to stop abruptly before he went on, 'shen it, we can't move him can we?'

        'Psychospatial Orientation!' Vidal murmured quietly.

        'We still have to move him Vidal,' Laurie said firmly. 'Surely the three of us can help to get him through PsyOrn without too many problems. I just wish we had a Householding's infirmary we could take him to, but we haven't, so we'll just have to do the best we can. After all what choice do we have? It's either stay here and in the end we all die or we carry him out of here – PsyOrn notwithstanding. I think I know what the Sectuib would say.'

         Vidal sighed softly, 'I tend to agree with you.' He looked across at his Companion as he asked. 'Do you have anything we can use to loosen these chains from the wall, Jason?'

        'Wait a minute there's a metal pole lying over there. I hate to think what it was used for,' the Gen carried it across and began to smash it into the end of the chain that had been embedded in the rock wall of the cave.

        Eventually, with Vidal using his considerable Sime strength to pull on the chains' anchorage, and with Jason attacking it with the pole, it began to work loose, till, with one final groan, the rock shattered and the chain fell to the floor.

        Immediately all three men set to work to release Jordan. Now that Vidal was free to use his strength to better advantage, the job was soon completed and the Sectuib, too, was freed.

        Then while Vidal made a lateral examination of the other Channel's wounds, Jason explained that neither he nor Laurie had any idea which way they should go to get out of the mountain hideout.

        'How is he?' Laurie asked anxiously.

        'I can detect no permanent damage.' Vidal said at once, 'however he may remain unconscious for some time. In the circumstances, that is perhaps for the best. The last thing we want is for him to wake up while we are actually moving him. If we can only get him to a place of safety we can then attend to him properly.'

        Laurie shuddered as he agreed with the Channel, 'I've only seen one Sime go through PsyOrn,' he said softly, 'believe me – it wasn't an experience I ever wanted to see again.'

        'It looks like you're going to, though.' Jason said looking commiseratingly at his fellow Gen.

        Vidal sighed. 'We can only do the best we can,' he said calmly as he bent to pick up his friend, and then froze as Jordan's eyes opened and he stared up into his friend's face.

        'What's happening?' He whispered, but before anyone could answer his question he suddenly turned to one side and was catastrophically sick onto the floor while Laurie knelt beside him and placed a cool hand against the Channel's forehead. When he had finished being sick, Vidal quickly grabbed hold of him and carried his friend away from the mess.

        'How do you feel?' Laurie asked at once as he knelt down beside him.


        'I'm afraid we're going to have to move you.' Laurie said softly.

        'Well at least he's conscious.' Jason pointed out, 'so we don't have to worry about PsyOrn do we?'

        'Pardon?' The Sectuib looked confused as he stared up at the circle of concerned faces staring down at him. 'What's happening?'

        'We've been captured by the wild Gens in the Hollow Mountains.' Vidal explained quickly. 'You got a nasty blow to the head. We were just in the process of moving you – unconscious.'

        'Shen and shin! I'm glad you didn't.'

        'So are we, Jordan.' Jason whispered back, 'believe me, so are we.'

        'We have to try and get you out of here now, we probably won't get another chance.' Laurie informed his partner, before he said honestly. 'But you do look…awful.'

        'I feel worse – believe me, but that can't be helped,' the Sectuib retorted as he took a deep breath. 'At least I won't have to suffer PsyOrn. Anything has got to be better than that. But I don't think I can walk very fast.'

        'You won't have to. I'm going to carry you.' Vidal stated.

        'It'll only be till we get out of the caves, then we can give you a chair lift,' Laurie pointed out.

'Look I hate to be the one to say this, but we've got to move now. If we delay any longer we're bound to get caught.' Jason interrupted them quickly.

        'Are you ready for this?' Vidal asked gently as he bent to pick up the Channel.

Jordan gave a brief nod of agreement, which he immediately regretted, as pain lanced through his head.

        'Which way do you think we should go – left or right?' Laurie demanded as he led the way out of the cave with Jason still carrying the light.

        'We'll go left.' Vidal instructed. 'I'm certain that that's the way they brought us in here.'

        'Keep the noise down everyone! The Gens might not be able to zlin us, but they can certainly hear us.' Jason hissed as they all hurried along the narrow passageway.

        Suddenly Laurie stopped and turned to face his friends, a finger pressed against his lips for silence because someone was approaching down one of the side passageways.

        Seconds later a man carrying a tray of food stepped into view. 'Thanks,' Jason murmured as he took the tray from the shocked Gen and Laurie delivered a short left jab to his chin, which rendered him unconscious, before Laurie caught him and lowered him to the floor. Jason placed the tray on the floor before he grinned a rueful apology towards the two Channels for disturbing the ambient. Then picking up a large slice of bread from one of the plates on the tray, he tore it in half and handed one piece to his fellow Gen. It was all over in moments, and the small party were once more on their way, having stepped over the still figure.

        Jason quickly swallowed his portion of bread before he said sotto voce, 'I can feel a breeze up ahead.'

        'So can I.' Laurie replied, as he took a deep lungful of the sweet mountain air as they all stepped out onto the mountainside. They appeared to be only a short distance from where they had been captured.

        'Wait a minute, Vidal. Let us take Jordan from here.' Jason said as he and Laurie joined hands and accepted the Channel in a chair lift, one of his arms around each of their shoulders.

        Vidal immediately took the lead as they all moved back down towards the trail.

        'Where've they put the horses?' Laurie asked craning his head to stare around at the mountain face, before he turned to ask the Channels, 'can you zlin them?'

        'No.' Vidal said at once. 'I would imagine they've put them into one of the bigger caves, but I have no idea where that might be.'

        'Well. in that case. we'll all have to walk out of here.' Jason murmured fatalistically.

        'Wait a minute, Jason.' Vidal interrupted. 'If they haven't already done so, the wild Gens are soon going to realise that we've gone and they're going to come in pursuit. And we have to remember that they know these mountains a lot better than any of us. So without horses, or some other form of transport, we're just not going to make it out of here at all. I'm sorry to be pessimistic, but we have to face facts.'

        'Vidal, you're just being a defeatist!' Jason snapped back.

        'No he's being a realist,' the Sectuib stated quietly. 'And the problem is compounded since you have to carry me.'

        'Look, standing here analysing what might or might not happen isn't going to get us anywhere.' Laurie joined in to say. 'Because we do have one thing in our favour, we're going to be chased by Gens and not by Simes. Now that in my book has got to be a plus.'

        'Agreed.' Jason said at once, 'but it still doesn't alter the fact that we have to find Meg and Peg.'

        'Well, we can't do that till we find somewhere safe to put Jordan while we look.' Vidal said, 'after all we can't just leave him sitting here in the middle of the trail for the Gens to find, can we?'

        'Of course not.' Laurie said and again looked up and down the empty trail, 'but where?'

        'Back inside there.' Jason said suddenly, and seeing the confusion on his friends faces he explained, 'back inside where we just came from. If you recall the passageway was full of small side caves and corridors with even more smaller caves. I suggest we leave him in one of those. It'll be the very last place they'll think to look for him.'

         'That's an excellent idea.' Vidal admitted smiling across at his Companion. 'And I suggest we do that straight away before we do anything else. We may not have much time.'

        They duly carried the Sectuib back inside the cave entrance that they had recently vacated, and then down a long dank passageway till they came to one of the many side corridors that finally led into one of the thousands of small caves that honeycombed the mountains. Setting Jordan down in the darkest part of one of the caves the three men quickly took their leave of him as they went in search of the horses.

        Once his friends had gone Jordan settled down as comfortably as he could on the hard rock floor, his head resting against the wall. Then, aware that there was nothing he could do to help them, he decided to use the time available to him to best advantage by putting himself into a healing sleep. At least then, when they did eventually resume their escape, he would not be a complete burden.

        Jordan woke to find he was still alone, but he felt much better and his head wound was no longer hurting quite so much. Moving as quietly as possible he went to the door and listened for any movement in his vicinity, but all remained quiet, so he stepped out into the passageway and zlinned both up and down.

He immediately decided that, yes, he was most definitely alone, while his Sime time sense told him that his friends had been gone for four hours. So he knew that it would be dark outside. But where were they? Had they been caught, or were they being chased by the wild Gens – or were they in hiding somewhere?

        More importantly perhaps was what he himself should do now that all this time had elapsed? Should he remain here till they came back for him as Vidal had told him to do, assuming that they had merely been delayed – or should he go in search of them?

        He decided he would give them another hour and would then reconnoitre the mountainside outside the cave entrance, to see if he could zlin them in the vicinity. If that proved to be unsuccessful, then he would have to assume that they had indeed been recaptured. Which meant he would have to penetrate deep into the mountain to find them. It was not a prospect he was looking forward to.

        Sitting down to wait for another hour, he allowed his mind to drift back to his cousin Logram, and what he was attempting to do. It was not a task that even he, as the Sectuib in Zeor, would have undertaken lightly, especially with all the difficulties that undoubtedly lay ahead for the whole project.

Yet one of the hardest obstacles on Logram's path to creating the first Householding on this strange planet was the attitude of Ryan Farris. Which way would the junct Channel go? No one, not even Jordan himself, could answer that conundrum. Yet he felt sure that in Ryan's decision lay the ultimate salvation or destruction of this world – that was how important it was.

Jordan had once remembered his own father talking about Klyd Farris and the Farris family in general. He had said that Farrises always seemed to find themselves at a crossroads in history, that when a crisis hit the human race, the Farris family and especially its current Sectuib – would inevitably find himself at the very heart of it.

Perhaps in a strange twist of fate Ryan Farris would one day become the Sectuib of this new House that his cousin was creating and find himself catapulted into just such a pivotal role on his own world?

Of course, Jordan knew that he would never know the answer to any of these questions, yet it was something he would always ponder, right up to his dying day.

Suddenly with unconscious Sime grace and speed he stood up and walked once more across to the entrance to the small cave. The hour he had allowed himself was now up, and thankfully he felt much better now than he had before. However, a decision still had to be made as to whether he should remain here in hiding or go in search of his friends?

A smile touched his expressive Farris lips as he openly admitted to himself that if he had had a coin he might even have tossed it, although he would never have admitted such a thing to either his Companion or his friends. However, he did not have a coin, so he levelled his thin shoulders and raised his chin as he stepped out purposefully into the passageway and set out on his self-imposed quest.

The passageway in both directions was dark, and now that he did not have any Gens to zlin his way, he found he had to feel his way along the damp rock walls just the same as any Gen.

He smiled grimly as he acknowledged honestly to himself, that it was only at times like this, when he was not only blind as far as his eyes were concerned, but also as far as his zlinning abilities were concerned, too – that any Sime would or could fully appreciate the gifts with which he had been born.

Exiting finally into the cold mountain air outside the entrance, he was pleased to see that the second Moon had now risen, and was throwing a welcoming silvery glow over the bleak landscape.

Extending his tentacles he zlinned in all directions before he set off down the trail having decided that he would search outside first. Then if he could not find any trace of his friends, he would then, and only then, re-enter the caves.

It was not a prospect that he was looking forward to. After all, he was well aware that if he were recaptured, then the Gens on this world would probably be every bit as vicious to Simes, as his own kind would undoubtedly be to them. Perhaps even more so – and with just cause he acknowledged honestly.

A shower of small stones suddenly cascaded down the side of the mountain to his left, and Jordan instantly augmented as he leapt behind a large outcrop of rock and then watched as a small group of Gens slid and slithered their way down the mountain face, towards the cave entrance that he, himself, had left just moments before.

In the middle of the group he could zlin Jason, Laurie and Vidal. All were tied together by one long rope. The Sectuib knew that once they were all safely inside the mountain, his chances of freeing them again would be zero. No, if he was to stand any chance at all, it had to be out here in the open while their captors were least expecting it.

Taking a deep breath he positioned himself to attack, selecting several large stones from the many that were lying around on the floor at his feet.

Jordan was aware that Vidal had already zlinned his presence, and he had little doubt that his friend would be able to break the rope that bound him to the two Gens with ease, once he was aware that a rescue was under way. While his other two friends would undoubtedly be quick enough to take advantage of the distraction that he would soon be providing.

As soon as they were within range he fired the first stone hiting his target with deadly accuracy, the second stone, too, found its mark. But by now the other Gens had realised what was happening and began breaking into a run, while Vidal snapped the rope that bound him to the two Gens.

Immediately Vidal grasped one of the wild Gens with fingers and tentacles and rendered him unconscious, while Laurie and Jason tackled the remaining Gens. It was over in seconds. The Sectuib moved at once to help Jason and Laurie release themselves from the remainder of the thick rope that still fastened them together.

'I didn't realise you could snap a rope that thick, quite so easily.' Jason said to his partner, 'why didn't you do it before?'

'I thought it best to wait for a more advantageous moment,' the Channel confessed with a rueful grin, as he nodded his thanks to the Sectuib for his help.

'Any time.' Jordan said with a brief smile.

'How are you feeling?' Laurie demanded as he studied his friend closely.

'I'm fine. I spent the time you were gone in a healing sleep,' the Sectuib stated, 'no luck with the horses, I take it?'

'Yes and no.' Laurie said at once, 'we found some horses, four in fact, but none of them are ours.'

'You can say that again.' Jason stated with trepidation. 'They only looked half tame to me!'

'Half broken.' Laurie corrected with a grin at his fellow Gen. 'But I would imagine they aren't quite as bad as that. After all there were saddles hanging on the wall, which means someone must have ridden them quite recently.'

'Come on let's go.' Vidal urged, 'it's this way,' and he led the way around the side of the mountain.

'Horses and me just don't go together.' Jason reminded them all as they set off, 'and you have to admit, they did give me the evil eye!'

Laurie and the two Channels broke into soft laughter at the expression on their friend's face.

'Well they did!'

'Come, Jason, be honest now. You don't really think that do you? Gypsies may give you the evil eye, but I've never heard of a horse doing it.' Laurie admitted, still grinning broadly.

'If it bothers you that much, Jason, you can always ride behind me.' Vidal said placatingly.

'And hold us all up!' Laurie muttered, 'has anyone any more good ideas?'

'I won't hold any of you up.' Jason snapped back, and then said ominously. 'But don't blame me if it throws me off!'

'I'm sure it won't do that.' The Sectuib said firmly.

Vidal led the way into a long narrow chamber that was created from an overhang of rock that jutted out from the side of the mountain. At the far side, four horses were tethered and all had obviously been fed and watered quite recently.

'Well at least we haven't got to worry about that for a while.' Laurie observed as he moved to stroke the nearest horse's nose. It immediately shied away from the human touch, blowing air loudly through its nostrils as it did so.

'See what I mean?' Jason said pointedly, 'and they don't even look like real horses.'

'What do you mean – they don't look like real horses?' Laurie demanded to know.

'Look at the size of them, and the body hair on that one, it's almost as long as it's mane.' He pointed out. 'It could be related to a hairy Mammoth!'

'I would imagine that the original Gens who first populated this world brought some horses with them, but over the years they've been crossbred with the indigenous horses,' the Sectuib suggested. 'It would account for the changes.'

'Yes. Vidal said more or less the same thing when we acquired Meg and Peg,' Jason observed without taking his eyes off the horses.

'Well these are all geldings anyway, but the brown striped one looks quite placid.' Laurie told Jason, 'try that one. It might be a lot less lively than the others.'

Jason snorted derisively, 'if you say so.'

'I do.' Laurie reiterated as he helped Jason to put the saddle on the striped horse before he put his own saddle onto what looked a little like a black and white piebald that was standing close by.

Vidal and Jordan were talking quietly together as they each saddled the two remaining horses. Both were a bluey black, except that Vidal's horse had white socks.

Once they were ready they led the horses out of the overhang of rock and down onto the trail.

'Can we lead them for awhile, just till they get used to us?' Jason asked as they set off.

'Good idea. Walk the horses and make it easy for the Gens to catch up with us.' Laurie said sarcastically. 'As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we get away from here, the better it'll be.'

'Laurence is correct.'


'Yes of course. But nevertheless you are correct.' Jordan stated. 'Mount up, Jason. We shall not be going too fast – we can't – not till we get off this trail and clear the mountains completely.'

'It'll give you a chance to get to know the horse.' Vidal said bracingly as he tried to pacify the Gen who was broadcasting fear to both Simes.

It took three attempts before Jason finally managed to get up onto his horse. Each time he tried to put his foot into the stirrup the horse shied away from him, moving to bump into Jordan's horse causing the Sime to sway elegantly in the saddle as he moved his own mount out of the way.

'See what I mean? The thing's not even broken!'

'Jason, you are broadcasting fear! Jordan and I can zlin it in your field, and the horse can no doubt sense it, too – some animals can. Relax and clear your mind,' Vidal advised his Companion.

'Shen it, I'm trying aren't I?!'

'Then try harder!' Laurie almost yelled, only to have Jordan shush him into silence.

At last they set off single file at a gentle trot. Vidal led the way with Jason close behind him, followed by Laurie, with Jordan bringing up the rear.

Vidal turned around in the saddle to look back at his Companion with a reassuring smile as he asked, 'everything all right?'

'I suppose.'

'You're doing very well,' he said encouragingly.


Laurie, who had been listening to all this, laughed out loud, only to have the Jordan again remind him to be silent.

They left the mountains without further incident and set off across the desert in the direction of the forest. By this time both Gens were famished and were broadcasting the fact loudly and consistently in their nagers.

Both Channels wished that they could stop zlinning the Gens hunger, but knew that they had to be on alert now more so than ever, as they made their way nearer to the castle, and the militia – who were no doubt patrolling the area.

'At least we might be able to get some food off Angus and Fay.' Laurie said for the umpteenth time.

'I hope you're right, because at the moment roasted Sime sounds quite appetising.' Jason confessed with a grin, and a sidelong glance at Vidal.

'There appears to be no one in our immediate vicinity.' Vidal observed, 'and since we have no chains or shackles to put on either of you…'

'…and we shouldn't even be riding.' Laurie reminded him.

'That being the case, then perhaps it would make more sense if we went a little faster and covered the next few miles more quickly? The closer we get to the forest the sooner both of you can eat.' The Sectuib pointed out persuasively, zlinning Jason as he spoke.

'Sounds fine to me.' Laurie said at once. 'Jason?'


'How do you fancy a bit of a gallop? Blow some of the cobwebs away.'

'I haven't got any cobwebs to blow away.' Jason muttered.

'Come, Jason, I know you're hungry.' Vidal said encouragingly. 'Your horse is performing well so you've nothing to worry about. Surely you can at least try. If you encounter any problems then we can always slow down again.'

'All right I give in. I know I'm in the minority here, but never let it be said that I held everyone up.' Jason growled.

'Good, I'm glad that's settled.' Laurie gave a mock sigh of relief as he kicked the sides of his piebald and set off at a gallop. The Sectuib was close behind him.

Vidal slapped Jason's horse on the rump and it immediately responded by braking into gallop – it's long strides covering the ground quickly – while his partner brought up the rear.

The next few miles flew by with Jason holding on grimly both to the reins and the pommel. He suddenly saw that the two horses in front of him were slowing down, and began to pull on his reins, only to find that the horse didn't slow down. Indeed, if anything, from his perspective, it seemed to quicken its pace.

Shen it! I knew this would happen, he said to himself as he watched the ground disappear even more quickly beneath the pounding hooves.

What shall I do? Jump off? No, I could at the very least break a leg, and that really would hold everyone up. Wait till the damn horse gets tired and stops running or throws me off? And what if the others have slowed down because the Channels have zlinned a patrol up ahead?

Do the others know that I can't stop? Of course they do. So what the shen are they doing about it? Jason tried to turn around in the saddle to look over his shoulder and see if any of the others were behind him, but almost fell off so he turned back, grabbing hold of the pommel with one hand and the bay's mane with the other as the horse suddenly rose up into the air and jumped over a small rock sticking out of the sand, all without braking its gallop.

'Jason, hold on tight but move forward on the saddle,' Vidal's voice suddenly shouted in his ear, and he saw that while his partner was approaching on his left. Jordan was positioned on his right.

Moments later Vidal suddenly rose up kicking his feet out of the stirrups so that he could crouch on the back of the big black horse. Moments later he jumped into the air landing nimbly on the back of Jason's horse.

Grasping the reins, the Sime used his considerable strength to slow the horse, and then brought him to a reluctant halt. The horse was gulping air into its lungs as it sweated and steamed in the dry air of the desert.

Jason sat like a statue on the horse's back, too shocked to even think about getting down. Suddenly it hit him that the horse might just decide to take off again. And that was enough incentive to make him slide down off his horse's back to the hard floor, his legs shaking so much with reaction that he almost fell to his knees on the sand.

'Jason, are you all right?' both Vidal and Jordan were zlinning him deeply as they poked and prodded him with their tentacles and fingers.

'I'm fine now I'm off that poor excuse for a horse!' he confessed at once.

'Why the shen didn't you pull on the reins you idiot?' Laurie demanded as he caught up with them.

'I did, but it didn't make any difference! The damn thing just went faster!' Jason shouted back.

'Well you obviously didn't pull hard enough!'

'Say that one more time and you'll feel my fist hit your face, and we can see if that's hard enough for you!' Jason yelled back, relief now making him even more furious. In fact he was angry with himself because he had not been able to stop the horse, and had, as he saw it, made a complete fool of himself in front of all his friends.

'Shut up Laurence…Laurie, and you, too, Jason!' The Sectuib ordered. The only time that Laurie had heard that tone of voice before was years ago when Jordan had ordered him off Zeor land. 'Jason could have been badly injured. This is no time for recriminations, on either side,' and he glared at both protagonists.

'Yes Sectuib.' Laurie said at once, and fetching a piece of rag he had tied to his saddle, he went up to Jason's still sweating horse and began to vigorously rub it down.

'Jason, rest for awhile.' Jordan ordered peremptorily, and then moved off with Vidal to where they could speak quietly together.

'He will have to ride with one of us,' the Sectuib said at once.

'I agree. I should never have cajoled him into getting on that horse in the first place. Did I tell you that the first time that I met him he was sitting on top of a horse in the middle of a field in full Sun, totally unable to get off the thing?' Vidal asked before he went on, not waiting for a reply. 'Since then he has of course ridden several times, but always on horses that one could only call – placid. I should have realised straight away that that horse would be too much for him. I feel this whole thing is entirely my fault.'

'Don't blame yourself.' Jordan said at once, 'things could have been a lot worse, you know. He might well have fallen off.'

'Or been thrown off and broken his neck!'

'Stop it Vidal. As I just said to Laurence and Jason, recriminations are no good to anyone. We are still on this Godforsaken world, and a long way from the portal. Let us put all our efforts into getting home, and not into self recrimination and some futile discussion about what we should or should not have done in the past.'

'You're right, of course. But I won't let it happen again.'

'I would suggest that you ensure that he goes for riding lessons as soon as we get home.' The Sectuib said with a brief smile.

'He's already had them.' The Channel admitted ruefully.

'Then maybe he requires a few sessions with one of the Tecton's psychoanalysts. Deep down he's undoubtedly terrified of horses.' Jordan said at once. 'Have you any idea why?'

The Channel shook his head as he said, 'I've always known that Jason and horses don't go well together, but I've closed my eyes to the fact that it was really a lot worse than that.' He sighed. 'You're correct, of course. He should see a psychoanalyst. When we get home, I'll make him do just that.'

'You'll what?' Jordan smiled at his friend, 'did I hear you right – did you say – you would make him do it?'

Vidal shook his head ruefully. 'A slip of the tongue. I'll see if I can get him to talk himself into doing it.'

Jordan laughed softly. 'Ah, now that's a much better idea.'

        The Sun was just starting to rise towards its zenith as they approached the forest. Leading their horses, the Channels led the way into the thick undergrowth.

        'If you'll both stay here,' Laurie said glancing at the two Channels, 'Jason and I will go and see if we can find Angus and get some food.'

        'They may well have moved camp since you were last there.' Jordan pointed out.

        'Perhaps more than once.' Laurie agreed with a grimace. 'But I hope they haven't gone too far. I'm starved.'

        'Well if we can't find their camp, we can always make a barbeque out of him.' Jason stated, glaring at the brown striped horse, but the large creature merely stared right back at him apparently unperturbed by the threat.

        Laurie and Jason started to walk away from the camp when Vidal suddenly suggested, 'it might be a good idea if you take the horse with you and offer him to Angus in exchange for the food. Since Jason can't ride him, he's of little use to us.'

        'Good idea.' Laurie nodded his agreement as he walked over to the horse and said, 'come on then, Jason, lead the way. With any luck we'll be just in time for a meal.'


        The start of a new day was just beginning to dawn when the two Gens returned from their mission, their appetites replete – as the Channels could easily testify. Jason was carrying a basket of fruit, which he placed between Vidal and Jordan. 'Help yourselves.' He ordered with a smile.

        'You encountered no problems then?' Jordan asked as he helped himself to a yellow fruit from the top of the basket, which he smelled appreciatively before breaking the skin with his firm white teeth.

        'We were just starting to get worried.' Vidal confessed, 'you've been gone almost twelve hours.'

        Laurie shook his head, 'no problems. But by the time we found them and we'd eaten and given Angus an edited version of what had happened to us…'

        'Time just ran away.' Jason said and then went on with a grimace, 'can you believe they actually loved the horse – while I was only too pleased to wave it goodbye.'

        'I'm sure you were.' Vidal said with a smile as he riffled through the basket until he found a small red fruit.

        'You know, it might have been better if we'd let them have all the horses.' Jason stated.

        'Why?' Laurie asked as his eyebrows rose in query.

        'Well, Vidal and I walked across the desert after we arrived here through the portal. We didn't encounter any problems from Simes, and even if we'd done so, we had plenty of rocks to hide behind. But if we're on horseback it's not going to be quite so easy, is it? Horses are big creatures to hide, especially these.'

        'He's right.' Laurie conceded.

        'Yes, he is.' Jordan agreed. 'However, I feel that as long as we stay inside the cover of the forest until we are a sufficient distance from the castle...'

        'You mean till we're out of their zlinning range?' Jason interrupted with the grin.

        'Yes, then the only habitation between us and the portal is the small ale house that you went into.' Jordan said glancing across at Vidal. 'Once we've passed that, I doubt if we'll encounter anyone else on our journey. And remember, if there is any pursuit it will – in all probability – come from behind us, not in front, which is why I think we should retain the horses.'

        'Well, if everyone's agreed, let's make a start.' Jason observed glancing around at his colleagues, 'the sooner I can get away from here and have a nice hot shower, clean clothes and as much food as I can eat, the better I shall like it.'

        Some time later when Vidal had just estimated that they were within five miles of their destination, Jordan suddenly stood up in the stirrups, turned his head and zlinned the horizon behind him before he said pointing with a tentacle. 'A dust cloud. I can zlin at least a dozen Simes, all on horseback, coming this way.'

        'You think they're after us?' Laurie demanded.

        'Why else would they be in such a hurry? There isn't much else out this way – only us.' Jordan pointed out logically.

        'Well, come on, let's move before they catch us.' Vidal said and the three horses instantly broke into a gallop with Jason hanging on grimly to Vidal's waist.

        The horses ate up the next few miles the sand churning up beneath their hooves.

'They're gaining on us!' Jordan shouted his words carried to the others on the still hot desert air as they raced along.

'Do you think it's Ryan? Could he have escaped?' Jason yelled into Vidal's ear.

'I have no idea, but I doubt it.' Vidal called back. 'But remember, Ryan has offered a large reward for our capture – so it could be anyone.'

Jason fell silent as he realised that what his partner said was true. In all probability there were many Simes out searching for them just to collect the reward on offer. Simes who did not yet know that Ryan Farris would not be around to pay them – at least, not for some considerable time if Logram had his way.

Reaching their destination all the men threw themselves off their horses and raced into the dark interior of the cave. Immediately the two Channels each grabbed a Gen. First to zlin by, but more importantly so that they could pull them along in their wake.

Jordan led the way pounding up the narrow passageway till he reached the portal. Without hesitation he pushed Laurie through it as Vidal did the same with Jason. Then the two Channels followed them through.

'Do you think they'll follow us?' Jason gasped as he picked himself up off the hard ground at the other end.

'I don't know,' the Sectuib confessed as he arrived through the portal and ordered, 'Laurie, set the timer!'

Vidal suddenly slammed into Jordan as he, too, arrived back. 'They're right behind us.' He gasped.

'Not for long.' Jason said as the other three men helped him to manhandle the explosive device into position.

'Come on. We've only got eight minutes to get the shen out of here!' Laurie yelled and this time he grabbed hold of Jordan and pulled him towards the outer door, quickly followed by Jason and Vidal.

They were all pounding down the track outside the mine entrance when the ground beneath their feet began to heave and a loud rumble reached their ears.

'Well, if anyone did follow us through, they had a very warm welcome.' Laurie shouted, and the others agreed.


That evening they all ate out at Jason's favourite restaurant, before they returned to Vidal and Jason's apartment.

'In a strange way, I'm rather pleased that the Simes followed us.' Jason suddenly said, and seeing the expression on the faces of his friends he explained, 'they'll take care of the horses. If they hadn't been there, we would have had no recourse but to just turn them loose. I may not be keen on the brutes, but I'd hate to think they might have suffered through lack of food or water, just because of us.'

'Do you think Ryan Farris will ever fall in with Logram's ideas?' Laurie asked the two Channels as he ate one of Jason's favourite chocolates.

'I doubt it.' Vidal said after a moment's reflection.

'A junct Channel would have to have a very strong incentive to change his ways. I realise he's only three months past changeover, but that isn't everything.' Jordan pointed out.

'Yes, but as long as he can get good transfers from a Companion, he may not want to return to the kill.' Laurie observed.

'That may be true,' the Sectuib said slowly and then shook his head as he said, 'but is it incentive enough to last? I somehow doubt it.'

'But it's not his only motivation is it?' Jason said, breaking into the conversation.

'Pardon?' Vidal turned to stare at his Companion.

Jason smiled across at him as he said, 'you're all forgetting Denise, and you're also forgetting that she's the one who'll be serving him each month, giving him transfers like he's never had before.'

Vidal snorted inelegantly, 'maybe, but you heard the way he spoke to her. I doubt he even looks on her as a woman. Besides, I think he rather burnt his bridges as far as she's concerned. Don't you agree Jordan?'

'Maybe – maybe not. Women are strange creatures. She may even come to look upon him as a…challenge.'

'And maybe more than that?' Jason said with a slight smile.

'Just what are you trying to say, Jason?' Vidal demanded of his Companion.

The Gen looked at his three friends. 'Denise is a Gen. She's a great Companion – a 4+ no less – and even more than that, she's a truly beautiful young woman.'

'I think we are all agreed on that. But what's your point?'

'Look, I know Ryan said some pretty rotten things to her. He disgusted me as much as any of you. But forget about zlinning him. Didn't any of you just simply “see” the way that Ryan actually “looked” at her, long before he said those other things to her?'

Vidal's eyes opened wide as he said, 'you're telling us...?'

'Exactly. You know I've told you before, you and Jordan are so busy zlinning the ambient that neither of you bother to look for the outward signs and body language that are staring you in the face.'

'Believe me, when he first saw her he was pole axed. Then when he learned that she was going to give him transfer each month…surely you must have seen the expression on his face? Talk about eager anticipation – and I don't think it was just for the selyn she would be giving him, either.'

Laurie shook his head as he answered for the two Channels as well as himself. 'No, I'm afraid I can't say that I noticed a thing. I was way too busy listening to what the young lorsh was actually saying to her.'

'I think we were all guilty of that,' the Sectuib acknowledged ruefully. 'However, if you are correct in your assumption, Jason, then I may have to revise my previous prognosis. Perhaps, and I repeat perhaps, Logram's plans – if he is very lucky – indeed, may eventually come to fruition. We can only hope.'

Vidal, too, nodded his head as he murmured, 'well, I for one hope that Jason is correct. Not just for Logram's sake, and the sake of his new Householding, but because the fate of an entire planet may very well rest upon the final outcome.'

All four men nodded their heads in agreement.

'Of course, we'll never know the outcome for sure, will we?' Laurie said rather sadly.

'Yet we had no other recourse but to destroy the portal.' Jordan pointed out.

'I know that…but in some ways, you know, I actually envy Logram and the others.'

'You envy them?' The Sectuib looked at his Companion in both surprise and mock horror. 'Sometimes I think that I know all there is to know about you Laurie, and then you come out with a remark like that. Tell me, why do you envy them?'

'Well we, all four of us, have various adventures from time to time in the line of duty. But Logram and the others, well their entire lives are going to be one long adventure. They are actually living it, all the time. Now I know you're all going to think me mad. But in some ways I almost wish that the Amiz brothers had blown up the portal instead of just disconnecting the timer for us,' he confessed honestly with a wry grin.

'I've heard it all now.' Jason said at once. 'I've often thought you had a few screws missing Laurie, my friend. Now I'm certain of it.'

The Sectuib smiled and shook his head before he said, 'no I think I understand what he's trying to say.' He held up one tentacle for silence as Laurie opened his mouth to speak before he went on, 'I don't agree with you Laurence, but I do understand.'

'Well, I don't!' Jason said as he glanced across at Vidal and asked, 'what do you think? And please, don't tell me that you're as crazy as these two are.'

'I'm sorry, Jason, but Laurie and the Sectuib are correct. In the beginning I thought that Logram and his followers were, at the very, least naïve. But now I think I am beginning to understand what's driving them.'

'Yes, and I know what's driving them, too! They really are a bunch of crazy morons.' Jason snapped back, 'and I for one would hate to have been stranded there. It might be all well and good for Vidal and Jordan to live on a Sime dominated planet. But Gens like me? No, thank you. I've still got the marks from that shenning collar and chain.' He shuddered openly as he went on, 'and as for you, Laurie – words fail me.'

Vidal and Jordan both laughed softly as the Sectuib explained, 'which is precisely why I said to Laurie that while I can understand his words, I don't agree with them. You see, Laurie is my Companion – and I think I've come to know him fairly well – even though he can still surprise even me sometimes – but he is first and foremost a romanticist. He looks at what is happening on that world and he sees only the romantic side of things. You, on the other hand, are a realist and you can see all the troubles that lie ahead.'

'And I suppose you think that you and Vidal are a combination of the two – romance and realism?' Jason said with a touch of cynicism.

'In some ways, yes, I suppose you could say that.' Jordan conceded at once with a wry grin.

'I give up. All I know for sure is that we're all home safe and sound – and that's good enough for me.' Jason stood up and walked to the cupboard and fetched a bottle of Vidal's favourite wine and four crystal glasses. As he poured out the scarlet liquid he said, 'a toast to Logram and all his merry men and women. I may think they're crazy, but I wish them all the luck in the world with what they're trying to do...God help them – somebody has to!'

The four friends drained their glasses before Vidal observed, 'since you're sorry to have missed out on all the excitement back on Logram's world, Laurie, I think I should tell all of you that I found a message from Sam waiting for me when we got back. Apparently, he's been trying to contact us for a few days.'

'We have to report to his office before the end of the week. He has an assignment for us.'

'What is it?' Jason demanded to know.

'Is it off world?' Laurie asked almost simultaneously.

'I have no idea.' Vidal confessed with a brief laugh, 'I didn't ask.' He glanced at the Sectuib an eyebrow raised, 'no questions from you, Jordan?'

'None...well, maybe just one. I trust I'll have time to see my wife before we embark on this mission?'

'Oh, I think that can be arranged.' Vidal said, smiling at his friend.

'Which means that you know more about this assignment than you're letting on.' Jason jumped in to say.

'No, I told you the truth. Sam merely told me that there will be a lot of preparation to be undertaken before we can start. Which means that Jordan can spend time with his wife.'

Laurie chuckled as he said, 'You know, in the very beginning, long before Jordan and I teamed up, I had my doubts about working for Sam, but it can become quite addictive can't it?'


        Two weeks later, Jason stood in the Sectuib's outer office at Zeor staring through the window down onto the paved garden far below as he waited for his brother.

        Suddenly the door opened and he turned to find Ian running towards him – under full augmentation – to fling his arms around Jason's neck.

        'Slow down, little brother. You're not supposed to augment inside the building – it's a Zeor rule. Didn't you know that?' He laughed.

        'Of course I did, but no one saw me, and the insulation in this place is terrific. It's just been so long since I saw you.' He paused before he went on, this time, slightly more subdued. 'You know what happened. I wanted so badly to talk it through with you, but…'

        'I'm here now, Ian.' Jason said as he ruffled his brother's hair.

        'Yes but I'll be going to Rior in the next few hours. It isn't nearly long enough to tell you everything.'
        'You can always contact me or Mum and Dad on the Visi-Sim. Charge it to my account. Besides, I'll be able to visit once you're settled in. Look, I know it's all a bit of a rush, but that's the law. The Sectuib vouched for you so that you could stay here at Zeor till you go. If he hadn't done so you would have been on Mars by now, and it would have been much more difficult to get you moved from there.'

        'I realise that.' The young renSime paused before he said, 'the Sectuib reckons that I'll be going through disjunction in a few months time. I'm scared, Jason.'

        'I know you are but there's no reason to be. You've only killed once. I know it's going to be hard, but imagine how much harder it would be if you'd killed several times… You'll get through this, little brother.'

        'I said goodbye to the folks back home. But I wanted to stay.'

        'I know you did, and I told you, you will see them again.'

'How can I? I'm not allowed to return here and they can't afford to visit me.' His tentacles lashed together in anguish.

'One day they'll visit you Ian, we all will.'

'You promise?'

'Yes. I promise. Besides, some day you're going to have a family of your own and the parents will want to see their grandchildren. You know that.'

'What about Vidal? I like him, too, you know.'

'Oh, I've no doubt that he'll tag along.' Jason said with a fond smile.

The door suddenly opened again and a young Gen girl peeped in to say, 'I'm sorry, but are you ready to go now? The Sectuib said to tell you that the shuttle will be leaving for the Moon in less than an hour.'

'I'm ready.' He turned to embrace his older brother before he turned to face the door.

'Do you want me to come down to the flitter with you?'

'No, better not. I'm going to have to get used to being on my own. Besides, I don't want to make a complete fool of myself by crying all over you in front of the Sectuib.' The two brothers embraced yet again, clinging to each other for several seconds before they finally moved apart.

'You're setting out on a great adventure.' Jason said softly and then paused before he said, 'remember you're a man now, Ian.'

'Yes. I suppose I am but I don't feel that grown up.' He confessed and then said quietly, 'goodbye then, Jason – don't leave it too long before you and Vidal come to visit. Mum and Dad, too.'

'We won't.' The door closed quietly behind his young brother, and Jason turned back to the window again as tears began to fall unheeded down his cheeks.

Promises were so easy to make and just as easily broken, but Jason swore silently to himself that somehow someday, he would keep this one to young Ian.


Companion in Zeor wishes to thank Ronnie Bob Whitaker for providing several different scan sizes of Doreen's map that I could choose from.

If you are interested in Doreen's thought processes, as discussed during the editorial process, click here.