By D. DaBinett

        Ryan dismounted quickly from his horse, and running up the three steps that led to the front door, he embraced his cousin Simon who was standing there.

        'I expected you days ago, Ryan. If it had been anyone else I might have been worried.'

        'Thanks – I think.'

        'I meant, you can look after yourself,' his cousin said, with a slight grin.

        'Well, either way, I'm sorry for arriving late but I was delayed.' He flicked a tentacle at Michael, who was now standing behind the two horses, 'That's the reason.'

        'Where did you get it? I thought you were coming here to collect Gens, not bring one with you.'

        'Would you believe it tried to rob me?'

        'What!?' Simon stared at him in surprise, 'Is it mad?'

        'No, it's just another stupid Gen. Can you put it in one of your holding sheds for the night?'

        'No problem. Do you intend to take it along with the others, or leave it here?'

        'I'll take it.'

        Simon took a step closer to where the Gen was standing, and zlinned him. 'Are you sure that's a wise decision Ryan? It seems rather…' His tentacles grasped the empty air as he tried to articulate what his senses were telling him about the Gen.

        Ryan smiled as he projected calm into the ambient. 'I was thinking that it might have the very thing that mother and Dermott are looking for – spirit with a real bite to it's nager!'

        'May be, but is it the wisest course of action?'

        'Well, you know mother. I'll let her decide.'

        Simon laughed out loud as he said, 'You have a wicked sense of humour,' before he called one of his men across to take care of the Gen.

        Moments later, as he was escorted passed the bottom of the steps, Ryan's dark eyes met Michael's green ones. The Gen winked at him.

        Simon turned to his cousin opened mouthed as he asked, 'Am I mistaken or did it just have the audacity to wink at you?'

        'You're not mistaken Simon, it's one crazy Gen and that's for sure.' Then still laughing the two men turned and entered the house.

        Having arrived at Probity a few days earlier and finding that the entire place was deserted, Ryan had had no choice but to bring Michael with him to his cousin's farm.

They had agreed that Ryan would escort him there saying he had captured a Wild Gen. Michael had reluctantly agreed to this, and on the way to his cousin's farm Ryan had tried to explain to the youth what to expect when they arrived here; but he was not sure if he had been successful.

Michael was a strange mixture of intelligence and naivety. For while he knew so much from his parents about how Simes and Gens lived on the mainland, he did not, of course, have any practical experience of it. Ryan shook his head as he realised that the Gen was in for a very steep learning curve. Ryan could only hope that while this process happened, the youth would keep a level head, and not give cause for suspicion.

        The next morning Ryan walked outside to find Michael, who did not look very happy, and eight other Gens made up of two males and six females waiting for him. They all wore collars and chains and were shackled together by wrists and ankles. It was, of course, what he had expected to see. What he did not expect was to see that they were all gagged. Michael, too, was gagged. As Ryan looked towards him, the Gen's eyes flashed green fire and open rage in his direction.

        'I can only spare three Simes to accompany you.' Simon murmured from behind him as he zlinned the rebellious Gens.

        'That's fine. But are the gags really necessary?'

        'They are if you don't want your ears blown off with abuse.'

        'That bad?'

        'Worse. I'd suggest drugs to calm them down, but it might affect their ability to travel.'

        'Wise decision.' Ryan said at once, and then turned to watch a flat- bottomed cart drawn by two of his cousin's largest horses roll to a halt in front of the house. 'No cage?' He asked, as his eyebrows rose in surprise.

        'Afraid not, although I do expect Jang to get back with a cage tomorrow, if you can wait till then…?'

        'No, I don't want to delay any longer. I'll have to manage.'

        'Just don't take any nonsense from them. If you give my men a free hand they'll keep them well under control I guarantee it.'

        As the two cousins stood at the top of the steps watching, the Sime guards began to herd the Gens onto the cart, only to have them jump off again on the other side. Ryan could not stop his lips from twitching with amusement as he watched the show. Almost immediately the three Simes began to crack their whips against the Gens tender flesh as they quickly forced them back up onto the cart.

        Ryan stepped down to the ground and waved the Simes away. Facing the cart he stood with feet apart hands on hips, his tentacles sheathed; then raising his voice he called, 'Now listen all of you. If you don't want to ride then you don't have to; I have an alternative. I can leave the cart behind and you can walk all the way to my farm. Since I doubt that any of you know just how far that is I'll tell you – it's over 300 miles over very rough terrain. Now I'm a fair man, so like I just said –you've got a choice to make – you can ride or you can walk – and quite honestly, I don't give a shen which it is. The decision is yours.'

A smile of satisfaction touched his lips as most of the Gens finally climbed up and sat down on the body of the cart, their eyes flashing anger and disdain as they, in turn, pulled down one of the Gen females who had not yet sat down.

Immediately two of the Sime guards jumped up and fastened the Gens' neck chains to the side of the cart – which meant that if they attempted to jump down again, they would probably hang themselves.

Under normal circumstances Ryan would never have given a second – or even a first thought – to using Gens like these on a breeding program – it was far too dangerous. He wondered if either his mother or Dermot had any idea at all, what they were taking on?

Finally, he turned to look up at his cousin. 'Well, thanks for everything Simon. We'll be on our way.'

'Let's hope they give you no more trouble,' his cousin said quietly. 'I don't envy Aunt Mary dealing with them.'

'She'll drug them as soon as she zlins them,' Ryan assured him as he moved to mount his horse that had been saddled and brought around by one of the stable hands.

Moments later one of the Sime guards climbed up onto the wooden seat at the front of the cart and picked up the reins, while the other two jumped onto their horses and took up position one on each side of the cart – their whips in prominent view.

Ryan rode in front leading the way, having first waved a brief farewell to his cousin as he set out on the long journey home. Since they all had to travel overland, and could not take the sea route with their troublesome Gens, then it would inevitably be a very long journey, indeed.

However, now that they were underway Ryan had plenty of time to decide on his next move, which must be to find Probity. But where the shen had Logram moved them to? Perhaps Denise would have some idea? The problem, of course, was that she would not wish to give anyone else away, and would therefore be very wary about disclosing the names of other people – or indeed the addresses – of safe houses to him; and in all honesty could he really blame her? Would he give such information to the enemy, and he was in her eyes at least – “the enemy” – under such circumstances as these? The answer had to be no!

On top of all that, of course, there was Michael. Even as the name entered his mind he zlinned behind him; having no real difficulty in finding the young man's field amongst the herd of other Gens.

Michael, too, like his fellow travellers, was already feeling hot and uncomfortable, as the old cart banged and bounced its way along the track that dared to call itself a road, finding every rut and pothole as it went. For the first time in his life, the Channel found the state of the Gens not only disquieting – but extremely disturbing, too – and quickly stopped zlinning them, forcing his attention onto other things, including the road ahead of him.

He grinned to himself as he decided that if he had had to make their decision about whether to ride or walk, he would undoubtedly have opted for the latter. Although strangely enough, even in this he was different – not only from the Gens but also from most of his fellow Simes; because he had often heard his brother Dermott say when discussing a broken down old hack, that in his opinion a third class ride was better than a first class walk any day!

Suddenly something hard and sharp hit the back of his head. Ryan yelped and immediately pulled his attention back to the task in hand; realising at once that the Gens had begun to create another disturbance.

The cart had obviously been used recently to move either dirt or rocks from the quarry. The Gens had found a large quantity of small stones scattered around where they were sitting and were now busily engaged in throwing these at the guards.

His fellow Simes had, of course, easily dodged the bombardment. The only missile that had found its target had been the one that had hit him on the back of the head. That would teach him. After all if he had been paying attention, instead of day dreaming and not bothering to zlin behind him… He rubbed the sore spot ruefully with a tentacle, knowing he only had himself to blame.

A sigh escaped his expressive lips as he raised one hand, tentacles extended. The horses and cart slowly rumbled to a halt.

Turning around in the saddle he called out, 'I zlin that the cargo is thirsty. We'll stop here just long enough to allow them to relieve themselves and swallow some water.'

As the guards set about their task Ryan moved across to escort Michael to one side where they could speak freely. Then, zlinning that the Sime guards had all their attention on the other Gens, Ryan turned to Michael.

Removing the gag he waited as the Gen first spat onto the ground, then washed his mouth out with water before he swallowed several large mouthfuls. 'What the shen is all this about!?' He finally managed to blurt out.


'You said I'd have to stay in your cousin's holding shed for the night. You never said anything about any of this!' And he waved his arms towards the cart.

Ryan shook his head. 'Yes you're right – of course you are. My apologies, I should have told you that something like this would happen.'

'All right, apology accepted. Now tell me what to expect!'

'As you know, I intended to leave you at Probity. Since I can't do that, I have no choice but to take you with me to my home. And as I told you before we arrived at my cousin's place, I have to return home because I have to pick up Denise. I'm hoping that she might know where Logram has relocated.'

'Do you honestly think she'll tell you if she does?'

'Not really no, but it's the only lead we have.'

'As I said before, I'm beginning to wish I'd remained on the island.'

'You couldn't do that – you know you couldn't!' Ryan retorted at once.

'Well, at least I wouldn't be sitting next to a bunch of smelly bad tempered Gens.'

Ryan snorted with laughter.

'What's so funny?'

'Hearing a Gen talk like that about his fellow Gens, believe me, it's just…strange.'

'Hmph. I'll take your word for it.'

'You do that. Now look – I'll try and make things as easy as I can, Michael, but I daren't do too much or the Gens might start making things rough for you; especially on the rare occasions that I might be too far away to do anything about it.'

'Why should you be too far away?' Michael asked suspiciously.

'I may have to scout ahead.' The Channel explained.

'Can't you send one of the other Simes?'

'Not really. I'm far more sensitive than any of them, and it'll be expected. Michael, I won't desert you if that's what you're thinking. If I was going to do that, I could have done it long before we arrived at Simon's place. In fact, I could have simply left you on the island couldn't I?' He demanded logically.

The Gen nodded his head reluctantly.

'Look, we'd better get you back over there; they're nearly finished with the other Gens.'

'Do you have to stick that shenning cloth in my mouth again? It tastes of rancid fat.'

'Well, to be honest – it all depends on the others.' He gave a wry grin. 'If they haven't got the sense to keep their mouths shut,' he shrugged, 'then I'll have no alternative but to replace them.'

'I'll see what I can do.' The Gen said reluctantly.

'You do that, but take care.'

Ryan stood to one side his legs apart, his hands on his hips and his tentacles unsheathed resting on his belt buckle as he watched the Gens climb up onto the cart along with Michael before he raised his voice and addressed them.

'Right! Now, listen up. I'm prepared to remove the gags from your mouths, but the first words of abuse that I hear and I'll have my men replace them. Oh, and no more stone throwing either! Is that understood?' He zlinned the Gens as his eyes moved from face to face. Ryan could zlin the hate and hostility swirling around him, but he could also tell that they did not want the gags replaced and were prepared, for the moment at least, to concede this part of the game to him.

He signalled for the driver to climb onto the back of the cart and remove the gags. Not one word broke the uneasy silence as this was done. Once the driver was back in place on his small perch, they set off yet again.

For the rest of that day and most of the next they journeyed on without stopping, although the Simes did, on Ryan's order, hand out bread and fruit to the Gens.

They had made good time and were now approaching one of the post stations where they could rest for a few hours, feed the Gens and change the horses – when one of the Sime Guards suddenly came up alongside Ryan and said quietly, 'N'vet, Once we leave the post station I think we should keep an even closer eye on the Gens in the next few hours. I zlin they may be planning something.'

The Channel nodded his head, 'Yes, I agree. I've been zlinning trouble, myself, for some time now.' He confessed. 'I was going to speak to you about it after we tended to the Gens and horses. You'd better warn the others.'

'Yes, N'vet.' The Sime immediately left his side.

Pulling into the huge courtyard at the side of the post station building, the Simes quickly got the Gens down off the cart and took them to relieve themselves. When they came back they were made to sit on the ground as two of the Simes who manned the station staggered out with a huge metal pot filled with what they claimed was marroroot stew. Ryan had often eaten such stew at home, but it had neither looked nor smelled anything like this. Indeed, he was not really surprised when all the Gens refused to eat it.

The three Sime guards all turned to look at Ryan to see what they should do – whip the Gens into eating or just let them go hungry?

After a few moments of deliberation Ryan strolled over to the pot and picking up the wooden spoon lifted it towards his face his nose wrinkling in distaste. Replacing the spoon he looked across at the two Simes who had brought it out from the kitchen.

'When was this made?' He demanded imperiously.

'When?' Both Simes looked at each other and then the nearest one said nervously. 'I can't really say N'vet Farris.'

'I beg your pardon?' Ryan put on his haughtiest demeanour as he stared down his nose at the two renSime.

'Well we don't make it fresh each time N'vet. We just leave what's left in the bottom of the pot and add more marroroot to it.'

'So you never wash the pot or prepare fresh food.' The Channel stated coldly.

'Ah…yes I guess that's right, N'vet.'

'Well, I have a long way to go, and I don't want my Gens getting sick and holding me up on the way home. If I have to keep stopping while the Gens defecate or throw up every few miles because of your food – I shall not be very happy.'

'No, of course not, N'vet,' the two renSimes nodded their heads vigorously up and down as they spoke, fear evident in their voices.

'Good. I'm glad we're in total agreement, and that being the case, please bring out fresh food and throw that mess away. I suggest you carry it far enough away from here that it will not poison the dogs.'

'Yes, N'vet. Er...that is, what food shall we bring out...?'

'For shen's sake!' Ryan turned to his Sime guards. 'Will one of you please go inside with these two idiots and bring out some half way decent food.' He ordered brusquely, then watched as the three renSimes disappeared inside the building.

Zlinning the Gens who were all sitting on the ground looking smug that they appeared to have won an argument, and the guards who were open mouthed that a Sime should be interested in whether Gens were ill or not, even if it did further his own cause in the long run: he caught Michael's eye and surreptitiously winked at him.

A short while later the two renSimes and the guard returned with two large platters one containing lumps of cheese and the other slices of bread together with a basket of fruit. The Gens immediately fell on the food and quickly wolfed the lot down.

A short while later as the Gens were once more being corralled onto the cart, Ryan managed to have a few more words with Michael.

'What are they planning?' He whispered urgently.

Michael managed to look confused.

'Oh, please, Michael, don't start taking sides now. You're not one of them, you know.'

'I'm not? Well you could have fooled me – what am I then?'

'Look, believe me when I say you can't do anything for them; their fate was sealed long before you came on the scene. Now please, just tell me what they intend to do.' He begged. 'Fewer of your fellow Gens will die if you tell me now.'

'You mean fewer will die now, they're all going to die later aren't they, Ryan?'

The Channel absorbed the truth of his words before he said, 'My mother intends to use most of them in a breeding program, which means that most of them will at least have the chance to live.'

After a few moments the Gen said reluctantly. 'Apparently there's a massive outcrop of rock about five or so miles up ahead. We have to drive around it either to the left or the right. Some of their Gen friends will be waiting there. That's all I overheard.'

'Thank you. Now go and get back up on the cart and for shen's sake, keep out of the way when the fighting starts.'

'Fighting starts?' Michael hissed his eyes open wide.

'Yes, fighting, what do you think they intend to do – dance with us?' Ryan asked sarcastically as the Gen climbed up onto the cart.

Immediately the Channel went to tell the Sime guards what he had learned; and it was decided that they would take a different trail from the more direct one they had planned to use. This trail would lead them away from the rocks where the Wild Gens would presumably be hiding. It was longer and more meandering, but had the benefit of avoiding what would otherwise be a very dangerous confrontation – whatever the outcome might eventually be.

Zlinning their cargo of Gens, Ryan grinned, for he could tell how annoyed and frustrated they all were when it became obvious that they were swinging away from the projected route where their fellow Gens would be waiting, to this far safer one.

They made steady progress, covering more miles in the next two days than Ryan had expected. Consequently he called a halt as soon as the Sun began to go down.

The Sime guards quickly lit a fire and opening a large bag of grey potato like tubers that they had brought with them, they placed these in the red hot embers of the fire to cook. The Gens were shackled together around the fire for warmth. The last thing any of the Simes wanted tonight was to be distracted from their guard duties by shivering Gens.

Hopefully, the Gens who had been lying in wait for them had given up long since, and had returned to wherever it was that they had come from. But there was always the faint possibility that they might be more persistent than that. Ryan could not take any chances.

Later that night as Ryan was coming back from yet another tour of the perimeter of the camp; he zlinned that Michael had somehow been edged away from the warmth of the fire by the other Gens and was finding it too cold to sleep properly.

Moving closer he zlinned that all the other Gens were sound asleep. Quickly he removed the collar from Michael's neck, and picking him up carried him to the second fire that the Simes had lit for their own benefit and use.

'What's up now?' The Gen murmured sleepily as he was laid down on to the hard ground.

'Shh… Your Gen compatriots had managed to push you away from the fire. I thought you'd be warmer here. Don't worry I'll put you back there again well before they wake up in the morning. Now sleep.'

'I'll try.'

Some time later Ryan found that the Gen was still shivering and still not asleep. Unfortunately he had neither a heavy coat nor a cover that he could use to wrap the Gen up.

Suddenly he remembered something that Logram had said to him about Gens and sleeping. What was it? Why hadn't he paid more attention? Annoyed with himself for his forgetfulness, he wracked his brain for the answer…finally it came. It had been shortly after he had disjuncted and Logram had been busy telling him of dozens of simple things he should now be able to do as a Channel; and one of these had been – helping a Gen to get to sleep. Unfortunately, Ryan had only listened to the instructions with half an ear because helping a Gen to do anything, let alone sleep, had been of no interest to him at all.

Lying down beside the Gen he extended his tentacles and slid them carefully around the soft flesh of Michael's neck inside the collar of his shirt.

'Hey what the shen's going on?' The Gen asked suddenly wide awake and trying to sit up.

'Shh… I am only experimenting.'

'With me?'

        'Yes, with you, who else is here? I have no intention of hurting you, so calm down. I was once told how I could help a Gen to get to sleep.'


        'Yes, really.' He snapped, 'now be quiet. You're not making this any easier you know,' he leaned in towards the Gen ready to touch his lips with his own.

        'Sorry, hey what the...?'

        They were the last words that Michael spoke that night. When he next woke up, it was to find he was once more shackled alongside his fellow Gens. Sensing that he was being watched, he turned his head abruptly and saw the Channel standing a few yards away from him, an extremely smug expression on his face as he mouthed silently – “it worked!”

        Unfortunately, the new route that they had been forced to take now took them right past Reynolds' farm, and much as he would have liked to just keep going and not stop there, Ryan knew that he could not do that, especially since he had been supposedly courting his daughters.

        'N'vet Reynolds!' Ryan called out as he stepped down from his horse and approached the older man, tentacles extended.

        'Stop that Ryan – it makes me feel old. I've told you before my name's Matt. Now tell me, where did you pick them up?' He asked as he touched tentacles in greeting, before he zlinned the Gens with interest.

        'From my cousin Simon's place. Mother wanted them picked up, and I offered.'

        'From what I can zlin they're going to be a handful.' The older Sime observed.

        Ryan grinned, 'I'm well aware of that, believe me.'

        'Give you a hard time, did they?'

        'They started to – but I soon put a stop to any nonsense.'

         'Good boy. How about you come in for a cool glass of ale or tea if you prefer? Unfortunately, Margo and the girls are out visiting at the moment. They'll all be sorry to have missed you.'

        Hearing that the females of the family were not at home; Ryan immediately relaxed somewhat; and agreed to take refreshment.

Turning to the Sime guards, Reynolds ordered them to water the Gens, as he suggested. 'I can have them fed if you wish. It'll save you some time when you get home.'

Ryan nodded his thanks as he followed the older Sime into the house.

        The Channel accepted a cup of herbal tea, and the two men sat down to talk. An hour ticked quickly away and the Channel was just deciding the best way to draw the visit to an end, because he sensed that Matt Reynolds was attempting to bring the conversation around to his daughters, which was the last thing that Ryan wanted; when suddenly both men stopped talking as they zlinned a disturbance from the direction of the holding sheds.

        'What the shen is going on over there?' The older Sime demanded as he jumped to his feet and began to augment his way across the yard, with Ryan keeping pace with him every step of the way.

        The insulation in the sheds was stopping both of them from zlinning the exact cause of the trouble on the far side, but as soon as they arrived there the Channel could see immediately what was wrong. All the Gens that he had brought with him were being held at bay by his cousin's three guards, while Matt Reynolds' overseer was stalking Michael.

        'Touch me, and you're a dead man!' The familiar Gen voice rang out, loud and clear.

        'Be silent – and behave yourself!' Ryan ordered the young Gen a clear warning in his eyes. Michael bit his lip as he abandoned his aggressive posture and endeavoured to calm down.

        'What the shen is going on here, Thad?' Reynolds demanded of his overseer, his eyes on Michael.

        'We were feeding them N'vet when that one…' and he pointed towards Michael, '…told the others that the food's drugged and warned them not to eat.'

        'And is it drugged?' Ryan asked quietly.

        'Yes N'vet.'

        'Gens are not drugged at night. It stops them from sleeping,' Ryan pointed out logically to the Sime. 'Besides, you didn't ask me about it.'

        'The Gens were far too active, N'vet,' the overseer said appealing to Reynolds. 'I thought the morning drugs had worn off. I thought it best to administer a half dose more.'

        'Did it not occur to you that they were undrugged for a reason?' Ryan asked quietly.

        'No, N'vet Farris, if I had…' His voice trailed away.

        'Very well, since there's been no harm done here I suggest we get under way. I'm sorry to have caused you trouble, Matt.'

        'Nonsense. The fault lies with Thad,' the older Sime replied as he glared across at his overseer and dismissed him with a flick of a tentacle.

        The overseer still hesitated as he said angrily, 'That one should be dealt with N'vet, he's a troublemaker,' and he pointed to Michael.

        'Indeed. In what way should he be dealt with?' Ryan demanded coldly as he stared at the overseer.

        'My man is right. He should be punished, Ryan,' Matt said softly, 'you know as well as I do, that if word spreads amongst the Gens that one of them was openly defiant and there was no retribution…' He spread his tentacles out as he shook his head and waited for the younger Sime's decision.

        'I have every intention of dealing with the Gen appropriately, but time is pressing and I cannot spare the time right now.' Ryan pointed out quickly.

        'Of course,' the older Sime nodded his understanding as he ordered. 'Thad, step down and leave the Gens, all of them, to N'vet Farris' men.'

        A short while later the cart pulled away from Reynolds' house to Ryan's undeniable relief.

        On the short journey back to the Farris farm the Channel did not have an opportunity to speak to Michael alone. Indeed, as soon as the cart arrived with its much-awaited cargo, both his mother and Dermott supervised the unloading of the Gens into one of the quarantine sheds, without a single word of thanks to Ryan.

        It was only while they were examining the other Gens that Ryan took the opportunity of removing Michael and taking him to the small shed he had built for Denise. Since he fully intended to take the female Gen up to his rooms for the night, it seemed the best place to house Michael, for the time being, at least.

        'Now, tell me, Michael, what the shen was all that about back there?' He demanded as they walked across the yard, the Sime holding the Gen's chain loosely in one hand. 'Who told you about the food being drugged?'

        'My father.'

        'Of course! I should have thought of that,' Ryan said at once before he went on. 'Look, Michael this is extremely important. In future I don't want you interfering with the other Gens in any way. Is that clear? You know, it's already going to prove hard enough to justify to my mother why I want to keep a second Gen separate from the others, without you causing any more trouble or disruption.' He paused, and at the other's continuing silence he demanded, 'do you understand what I'm saying?'

        Finally Michael nodded his head before he said, 'But I don't have to like it do I?'

        'No of course not. Obviously you can think what you like, just don't act on it. Not unless you want my mother to step in. And if she does that – then I warn you – I will be unable to do anything to help you. Now listen carefully, Michael. I'm putting you in a holding shed for the night. It's the one I built for Denise – the Gen who gives me transfer. I told you all about her.'

        'Yes, I know.' Michael said, as Ryan used his key to open the door and ushered the Gen inside as he zlinned for Denise, realising at once that she was not there. He froze in the doorway.

        'What's the matter?' The Gen demanded to know.

        'I'm not sure. I expected to find Denise in here.' Ryan admitted slowly, 'Of course my mother may have had her taken up to my rooms, but that seems unlikely.' He paused a moment then said purposely, 'There's running water over there and I'll have Annie bring you some food across later. Afterwards try to get some sleep. I'll come and talk to you, probably in the morning. Oh – and keep quiet and try not to draw attention to yourself.'

        Leaving the Gen in the shed, Ryan entered the house. Having left a message for Annie he then made his way up to his rooms, to find that Denise was not there, either.

        Realising that only his mother or Dermott would know where she was being kept, Ryan flew down the stairs under full augmentation and made his way across to the quarantine sheds where he found them both in the process of leaving the sheds to return to the house.

        'Where is she?' He demanded, as he skidded to a halt in front of them.

        'You were augmenting in the house! You know I won't tolerate… and how dare you speak to me in that manner Ryan!'

        The Channel swallowed back his angry retort for he knew that his mother was just as likely to turn and walk away from him. He would have to wait hours – possibly longer – before she would deign to answer his query about Denise; and if she did not wish him to know the answer, then no one else would dare to go against her wishes.

        'I'm sorry, mother. But you agreed to keep an eye on Denise for me. She's neither in her shed, nor up in my rooms – and…'

        'Denise!? Did you say Denise? Are you starting to personalize the Gens now Ryan? That just isn't healthy you know… they're animals, not people!'

        'I realise that mother. But I am only a week from…transfer, and the fact that I don't know where she is…' he saw the frown on his mother's face at his use of the word “transfer” as he begged, '…please, just tell me where she is.'

        For several moments Ryan stared at his mother's stony face and his brother's almost delighted one as he watched from the sidelines. The Channel desperately wanted to zlin both of them, but knew that if he did so now his mother would be furious, and would punish him even further by withholding the information he wanted.

        However, even without zlinning her Ryan knew the exact moment when his mother capitulated to his request. As shaking her head slowly she finally said, 'I think we should discuss this after dinner.'

        Ryan forced back his anger. 'No mother, please, I must know now!'

        Abruptly she turned to her younger son, 'Go and prepare yourself for dinner Dermott; and Ryan, come with me.'

        Turning abruptly on her heel she led the day to her office, leaving Dermott smirking behind her back and Ryan, cold faced, close on her heels.

        Sitting down behind her desk the matriarch did not indicate that he, too, should sit down. Ryan certainly did not wish to do so. He was far too agitated to contemplate staying in one place for very long.

Over the years he had never had many feelings for his parents, especially his mother who had always seemed both hard and cold to the young Ryan even in his formative years; but now, if asked, he would have to admit that he really disliked her both as a woman – and as a mother.

Indeed, she seemed to get pleasure from hurting her sons in any way she could, not so much physically now as psychologically; and the Channel had little doubt that most of the blame for his younger sibling being the way he was, could, in many respects, be attributable to her treatment of him both as a child, and in recent years as an adult.

        At this moment Ryan wanted nothing more than to grasp her by the throat and force the answers that he wanted out of her, but knew that that would gain him nothing. He had to be patient.

Several minutes ticked slowly by before the matriarch opened her mouth again. 'Right. I trust you have now calmed down.' She leaned forward across the desk as she spoke.

        'Yes, mother.' He forced himself to relax as he saw her eyes go out of focus as she zlinned him.

        'Good.' She nodded her head slowly before she went on, 'the Gen is gone, and good riddance.'

        'What!? Where the shen has she gone?' A dreadful thought entered his mind as he stared at his mother, 'is she…' He abruptly swallowed the lump in his throat as he tried again. 'Is she dead?'

        'No. Not as far as I am aware. Yesterday Annie went to the holding shed with the morning feed, the door was unlocked and it was gone. That's all I know.'

'Didn't you institute a search for her?'

        'Of course not, why should I? Its leaving was the best thing that could have happened. Perhaps now you will learn to live like a proper Sime again –and leave all this perversion behind you.'

        'But how could she have opened the door? Did someone let her out?'

        'I have no idea, and care even less.' The matriarch said at once. 'If someone did unlock the door, then they deserve our gratitude. I have nothing further to say on the matter. I suggest you go now and bathe. You stink of horses and Gens and I shall see you at dinner; and Ryan, I do not want to hear another word on this subject. Not now – not ever!'

        Without a word Ryan walked to the door and closed it silently behind him. He knew that his mother had expected him to throw a tantrum as his brother would have done, or to slam the door behind him, but he would not give her the satisfaction he thought grimly, as he made his way back to his rooms.
        Moments later he sent for Annie and waited till she timidly entered his room. For a few moments he zlinned her deeply, sensing both her agitation and distress.

        'Where is she, Annie?' He asked softly.

        'I don't know, N'vet.'

        'Annie, come on. I know that you aren't telling me everything. Did someone order you to let her out? Look, as long as you tell me the truth, I won't be angry with you, I promise. Now come along, tell me.'

        'No one told me to open the door. When I went there with the morning feed I found the door was unlocked and the room was empty. That's the truth N'vet – I swear.'

        Ryan could zlin that she was telling the truth, but there was something more – something she was not telling him – he tried again.

        'Did you see anything else Annie? Come on, girl. I said I won't tell anyone, if that's what you're afraid of.'

        'The night before, I went there early in the evening to see if it wanted anything else before I turned in.'

        'And did it… I mean did she want anything?' He asked eagerly.

        'No. I pressed the buzzer beside the door, but there was no answer so I thought it must be asleep and left.'

        Ryan zlinned her for several seconds before he went on, 'And what else happened that night, Annie? Come on, something happened, tell me.'

        'When I walked past the shed later that night...I thought…well… I thought I saw...'

        'What did you see?' He pressed her again.

        'I thought I zlinned N'vet Dermott walking away from the shed. But I could have been mistaken. It didn't seem very important at the time.'

        Ryan bit back an angry retort as he said harshly, 'Earlier in the evening when you pressed the buzzer, did you also try the door to see if it was open or locked?'

        'No. After all, you were not at home – and apart from the mistress – I'm the only other one who has a key; and since I had not unlocked the door...' She broke off speaking to stare up at him, fear evident on her face.

        'Don't worry, Annie, I don't blame you. Thank you for telling me. Say nothing to anyone and I promise you will not be punished in any way. Return to your duties, and remember I want you to tend to the male Gen who is in the shed as you did for Denise.'

        'Yes, N'vet. I...I'm sorry about the female Gen, N'vet.'

        'I know you are, Annie. I only have one last question for you. Exactly when did all this happen? When did she disappear?'

        'Three days after you left here, N'vet,' she whispered, and quickly escaped through the door.

        For several moments Ryan stared at the closed door as he thought about what Annie had said. His mother, too, had a key. It was hanging on the wall of her office. Anyone, including his brother, Dermott, could have entered the office at any time and picked up the key, returning it at their leisure.

Somehow he did not think that the matriarch would have released Denise from the shed herself. Indeed if she had wanted to dispose of the Gen, either by releasing her or by ending her life; he had little doubt but that she would have done so openly and without fear of retribution. But that was quite simply not his mother's way. She had given her word not to harm the Gen, and therefore ergo, she, herself, would never have done so.

However, the fact that someone else had decided to do it – on their own, and presumably unbidden by her – well in her eyes that was a different matter altogether. One over which she had no jurisdiction – and therefore – no guilt.

Ryan had little doubt but that his brother, Dermott, was to blame. He would never be able to prove it, and his mother would never allow him to be punished. For, in her eyes, Denise was nothing more than another disposable Gen, and where was the crime in getting rid of a Gen?

However that being said, he still had to face his brother. Find out if she had been turned loose to find her own way and perhaps be killed at some point along the way. Especially since she would make her way to the only place she knew – Probity – and Probity was no longer there.

Then again, if Dermott had killed Denise…but could his brother kill Denise? If Ryan could not do so, and he was a First then how could Dermott carry out such a feat? No. Ryan was certain that Dermott could never have killed her on his own. He would, undoubtedly, have required help. A cold anger settled on Ryan as he contemplated that particular scenario.

Quickly he exited the room. His brother might already be in the dining room, of course, but then again he might still be in his own rooms. Very often Dermott's wife would go down ultra early, terrified of upsetting the matriarch, while her husband would often leave it till the last minute to put in an appearance – in a show of almost childish bravado.

Silently Ryan moved along the corridor. Moments later he opened the door to his brother's sitting room, and zlinned that his brother was indeed alone in his bedroom.

Dermott was standing in the middle of the room looking towards the door as his older brother entered.

'What do you want bro?' He asked, eyebrows raised in query.

'I want an answer from you, bro, before you go into dinner.' Ryan said, mimicking his brother's way of speaking, a look of contempt on his face.

'Can't it wait till later? You know what mother's like if we're…'

'I don't really care about mother at this moment in time, Dermott. I'm more concerned about you and Denise.'

'Me and… what is that supposed to mean? Surely you don't think I'd lower myself to take your leftovers? Believe me, there are better looking Gens in the holding shed and I'd far rather…'

Before his brother could utter the profanity that hovered on his lips Ryan under full augmentation had sprung across the space that lay between them and had grasped him around the throat with both his fingers and tentacles. 'Don't move, Dermott.' He ordered softly, 'I'll break your neck if you do, and that's a promise...bro!'

'What's this all about?' The younger Sime managed to gasp out.

'You know what it's all about. Look, I know you unlocked the shed door. You used mother's key from the wall in her office; so don't even try to deny it. I want to know what you did to her. Is she alive still or…' He couldn't quite finish the sentence.

'All right. Shen you to hell! Let me go, and I'll tell you.'

Still keeping a firm hold on his brother's neck Ryan eased back a little as he waited for him to speak. 'Come on, I haven't got all day.'

'Yes. I let the Gen go – it was me – satisfied?'

'Not really, so go on, tell me where she is.'

'Truthfully? I've no idea. I unlocked the door. I let her go. In fact, I took her well outside the farm before I let her go on her own. I even told her you were dead, so she won't come back here looking for you. But I didn't lay a tentacle on her other than that – I swear.'

Ryan threw his younger brother across the room where he bounced off one of the walls. 'If you want to live, then stay away from me, Dermott, and I mean that.' He threatened as he moved towards the door.

'I only did it for you, Ryan. You're better off without it!' He yelled back as he staggered to his feet rubbing his head with his tentacles.

'I'll be the judge of that, and if you interfere in any aspect of my life ever again…you're a dead man Dermott; and even mother won't be able to save you.' Ryan knew that his brother had already zlinned the sincerity of his words before he exited the room.

Yet still he called out defiantly, 'You're not fit to take over when mother steps down, Ryan! You're nothing but a perverted lorsh!'

The Channel kept on walking as he suddenly made up his mind about several facts. First – he had no intention whatsoever of taking over from his mother. Dermott was welcome to the farm, lock stock and Gens.

No, his main priority right now was to find Denise; and after that, he had to find where Logram and Probity had gone and take Michael there.

It was a difficult task he had set himself. He was under no illusions as far as that was concerned, for he had no idea where Denise might be right now. Indeed she could be anywhere between here and where she presumed that Probity might still be located. What would she do when she found that they had moved? That, of course, was probably the most difficult question of all, and he could find no immediate answer.

Returning to his room he packed a few of his more serviceable clothes and other items that he thought might be useful together with several purses that contained many hundreds of groats. Money was important on this journey, for he had little doubt but that he would have to warm many tentacles in his quest.

No doubt Michael was sleeping soundly by now he thought. So he would not wake him up to set off on their journey until at least an hour before dawn; not forgetting that a trip to the kitchens would be in order before he departed. Food to feed Michael was an important prerequisite, together with three horses, one to carry the bags and baskets.

Gens were not allowed to ride, but Ryan knew that if Michael wore a long cloak to hide his lack of tentacles, then he could easily mask the Gen's field from the average Sime as they rode past fellow travellers on the road; and if anyone challenged him, then he could still use the Farris name to make them back off.

For a few moments he wondered whether to inform his mother that he was leaving the farm for good, then decided against it, for she was just as likely to react by attempting to hold him here, perhaps as a prisoner – saying that he was of unstable mind, and with Dermott backing her up, who would dispute her right?

No. She would find out soon enough that he had gone, and he doubted she would shed many tears over his departure. His brother certainly would not. Lying down on his bed he decided to while away the long hours ahead of him by trying to rest.

As the hours passed he went over and over the plan that was slowly growing in his head as he planned for the days ahead. Of course, above and beyond even this was something far more serious; the most difficult question of all, one that he tried desperately to push to the back of his mind. What would he do if he had not found Denise before his next transfer that was due a mere eight days from now? He would not – could not – return to the kill. But what other choice did he have?

Logic dictated that if he tried to take transfer from Michael, he might well kill the boy. So wouldn't it be better to purchase a Gen from the military and kill a stranger, than inadvertently kill a Gen who trusted him?

The predawn sky was a deep dark blue as Ryan stepped out of the shower and dressed quickly before he made his way downstairs and out into the cold air. Making his way across the yard to the holding shed he opened the door and entered the dark interior.

'Michael, wake up.' He said softly as he shook his shoulder.

'What's wrong now?' The Gen said, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.

'Nothing, except we're leaving. Have a quick shower, it might be sometime before you get another,' he warned as he went to turn on the water. 'Come on – get up – we haven't got much time.'

'Why not?' The Gen asked as he walked across to the corner shower yawning, only to gasp out loud as the ice cold water hit his skin.

'Because I want to get away from here before daybreak, that's why.' Ryan snapped back.

'So where's Denise?'

'I have no idea. My brother let her escape.'

'That was nice of him.'

'Not really. He also told her I was dead, and on top of that she'll be trying to make her way to Probity.'

'But that's no longer there.'

'Exactly. Now will you please hurry?'

'We're going to look for her, I take it?'

'Yes, and after that we have to find out where Logram's moved Probity to,' Ryan muttered.

'Is that all?'

'Yes – and sarcasm isn't going to be of much help. Are you finished with the towel?' The Channel asked as he took it from the Gen, and handed him his clothes.

A short while later they headed out of the yard each mounted on a horse –with Ryan leading the third one.

As they reached the outskirts of the farm, Ryan turned in the saddle and looked back at the place he had called home for his entire life. It was strange to think he would not be returning here for some considerable time. Indeed he might never return again. Surprisingly, it was not something that appeared to upset him unduly. It could be the fact that he had never been happy here, had always felt the stranger, the odd one out. Maybe it was a combination of all these things.

        'What's the matter Ryan? Is something wrong?'

        Slowly he turned around to face his unknown future as he smiled across at Michael, knowing that the Gen could not see his face in the predawn darkness.

        'No, nothing is wrong. In fact quite the contrary,' he acknowledged honestly, as he led the way down the road, without once looking back.

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