(NB: This is the sixth in a series of Chapters surrounding the life and times of Ryan Farris who first appeared in A New Beginning: the Sands of Time Part Nine chronicling his life. Read, and hopefully, enjoy. Previous installments may be found through the COMPANION IN ZEOR index page.
THE FARRIS FACTOR 6
By D DaBinett
As Ryan strolled into the centre of the small town where a dais had been built to accommodate the auction, he held Michael's chain loosely, and was aware of the Gen walking behind him. After a few moments, even though he was zlinning, the Gen he could not resist glancing around at Michael. After all the young Gen had lived all his short life on the island and was now staring wide-eyed at his surroundings. A smile touched the Channel's lips as he endeavoured to view the scene through the Gen's eyes.
Crowds filled the square, while around the edges were stalls selling all types of cakes, candies, ribbons and scarves, together with others selling homemade wooden toys, fruit and toffee apples; and in the far corner stood an elderly Sime carrying a tray of exotic hand made chocolates. As he watched, a young male Sime and his girlfriend approached the man, and he bought a small box of confectionery for her.
Ryan grinned as he remembered the first time he had actually tasted chocolate it had been deliciously creamy even now saliva filled his mouth as he recalled the flavour and texture. He had even bought a box to take home with him.
The smile suddenly left his face as he recalled the moment when his father had seen him eating one of them
and had quite literally gone crazy! How was he to know that his father was allergic to the damn stuff, and had once almost died after kissing someone who had eaten some?
Michael was now standing like a statue at his side his mouth slightly open as he took everything in.
'Hey, come on. Follow me, this way,' he called as he yanked on the Gen's lead to gain his attention before he walked through the crowds who were now milling around the stalls, and approached the man with the tray.
Moments later he walked away again the proud possessor of one large box of home made chocolates which he immediately opened giving one of them to Michael who looked at it suspiciously, and then smelled it before he asked, 'What is it?'
'Try it, and see.' Ryan ordered as he led the way to the back of the dais where prospective purchasers could view the merchandise prior to auction. 'Don't speak to anyone and keep your eyes averted,' he warned the Gen softly as he approached the area where the Gens were displayed once they had been prepared for sale.
Ryan could not remember the number of times in the past that he had walked beside his father at auctions just like this one.
Now, looking at the cages full of males and females of all ages and types, he felt nothing but disgust. Disgust for his fellow Simes who were putting them up for sale, and disgust for the Simes who bought them; for these were not cattle. These were people; people who were fully aware of what was going to happen to them, and it was wrong!
Yet, in all honesty, what else could either he or his fellow Simes do? After all, to spare the Gens would simply mean sacrificing their own lives, for Simes could not live if Gens did not die, and surely that was wrong, too?
Why had nature played such a harsh trick on humankind? He shook his head as he tried to push all the unpleasant thoughts to one side, but they would not be dismissed so easily.
What if Logram was right? What if Simes like him, Channels if you will what if they really were meant to take selyn from their fellow Gens and pass it on to the renSimes? Perhaps it was not so perverted after all, but was just a different way of looking at life; a different way of living
and that was the operative word living. Because, Logram's way, everyone got to live, and Ryan's way
Quickly he glanced again at the cages full of frightened humanity. This way, the Sime way, half of humankind died. Surely that was wrong?
He frowned as he began to walk slowly past the cages full of people and when, exactly, did he start to think of them as people and not simply as Gens ripe for the Kill?
Not wishing to sense what these Gens were feeling he forced himself to stop zlinning, almost angrily closing in on himself as he cut off every sensory perception.
He suddenly became aware that someone was tugging on his cloak. Annoyed that anyone would interrupt either his privacy, or reverie, he turned abruptly an angry word on his lips, which he quickly bit back as he realised that it was Michael who was trying to gain this attention.
'What is it?' he snapped.
'Can I have another?'
'Another what? Oh, you mean a chocolate?' The Gen nodded his head vigorously. 'Very well.' Ryan bit back a smile as he retrieved the box from his pocket and allowed the Gen to take one before he replaced it again.
'Aren't you going to have one?' The Gen whispered as he nibbled at the confection hoping to make it last as long as possible.
'I may try one later, provided you haven't eaten them all by then, of course. Now be quiet while I check out the merchandise, or I may decide to put you into the auction,' he threatened.
'I can guarantee a good price for it, N'vet, if you do decide to sell,' a voice suddenly boomed into his ear. Ryan turned quickly to find a tall skinny Sime standing beside him. He was zlinning Michael deeply as he said to Ryan, 'It's got a strong, robust field, and I can zlin no fear in it
no fear at all.'
Ryan moved to put his own body between Michael and the auctioneer as he murmured softly for his ears only, 'I find that keeping a Gen for some time, indulging it and allowing it to get used to the idea that it is, in some way, special and will not be Killed
well, it fills the Gen with shall we say, over confidence
so that when I do decide that I have waited long enough.' Ryan closed his eyes and allowed a look of sheer bliss to cross his face before he went on, 'the shock, fear and betrayal that it feels then ah that is truly exquisite, my friend. You should try it some time. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.' Then with a brief nod and a tug on Michael's lead he walked away.
'I hope you didn't mean all that,' the Gen said, sotto voce.
'You heard what I said?'
'I have excellent hearing.'
'I'll have to remember that.'
'You didn't answer my question.'
'Shh, I want to take a closer look at this one, see if she zlins as docile as she appears.'
Having zlinned the girl more closely he walked to the end of the line and turning, began to make his way back again till he stopped in front of a cage that had two young males in it, one was outwardly defiant, but when Ryan zlinned him he sensed the deep fear that lay within him, and knew that he would not do at all.
The second one, however, looked totally despondent as he sat on the floor and stared into space, while he zlinned suicidal
The Channel shivered as he immediately stopped zlinning. Only once had he zlinned a nager like that, and it was not something that he wanted to encounter, ever again.
Taking a deep breath Ryan turned and led the Gen back to the front of the dais to take up his position. He had made up his mind. It had to be the female. Her demeanour was quiet and calm and she zlinned docile her spirit had been broken long ago. She would give him no fear to feed on, not until the very last moment when it dawned on her dull intellect that death was inevitable, and he could cope with that he had to cope with it, because there was no viable alternative.
As the sale progressed Ryan could sense Michael's shock and disbelief as his fellow Gens were each sold under the hammer, like cattle. After all, being told by his father that things like this went on in the wider world was totally different from actually experiencing it first hand.
Quickly the Channel worked to cloud the Gen's field from the other Simes who were standing around. Although, thankfully, most appeared to be in various stages of Need and were obviously too engrossed in their own purchases to bother with what Michael was broadcasting into the ambient.
The girl he had his eye on came up second from last, and Ryan was not surprised that only one other was biding against him; and probably he was biding for her because he knew that he could not afford any of the others, even though this girl's nager was everything that the average Sime did not really want in his Kill.
The bids went up by only ten groats at a time, and Ryan could see that the auctioneer was eager to finish the sale, so he raised his bid by fifty groats and smiled with satisfaction as his fellow bidder shook his head almost angrily as the hammer finally came down and the Gen was his, and he saw the renSime settle down to wait for the final Gen to be auctioned off. Momentarily he felt sorry for his fellow Sime as he realised that it was, of course, the one who welcomed death, the suicidal one was the only one left to sell.
On his way around the back of the dais to pay the auctioneer and pick up his purchase, Ryan stopped and murmured close to Michael's ear, 'I do not want you to say anything to the girl.'
'You want me to ignore her?'
'Michael, surely it must be obvious even to you! The girl is not a pet or a potential friend. For shen's sake, I intend to KILL her! She is going to die. How much clearer can I be? Befriend her, talk to her, make her feel safe, and believe me, it is you who will pay the price when she lies dead, and you help me to bury her!'
'Shen it you really are a murderer!'
The Channel sighed almost wearily. 'In Gen eyes, in your eyes, I suppose I am. I've tried to tell you that time and again, Michael. I am Sime, and I Kill a Gen every single month to enable me to live. This is the simple fact that you have to accept. I am doing this because I do NOT want to Kill you, is that plain enough for you?'
'Yes, but I'm not sure I can let you Kill her, just to save me.'
'Oh, for shen and shay, grow up Michael. This is the real world we're living in here, not your island idyll. Look, I promise we'll try and find either Denise or Logram before I need to Kill, but if we can't then I intend to take the female.' His voice dropped to almost a whisper as he murmured, 'I refuse to Kill you.'
'How long can you wait before you have to
'Michael's voice trailed off as he stared up into the Channel's dark eyes his question hanging in the air.
'I already feel the shadow of Need, but truthfully? I can probably wait another five maybe six days before I
' He paused and then went on, '
having the two of you near by will help. At least I know that my selyn supply is close, and I do not have to hunt for it. I can only promise to try my best.'
'I guess I can't really ask anymore of you,' the Gen admitted gruffly.
'Thank you; and Michael, I'm sorry to have dragged you into all this. I mean, when I asked you to leave your island and come with me to the mainland I honestly thought that Probity would still be there. If it had been, then all this
well some of your illusions, at least, could have remained intact.' He stopped speaking shaking his head almost angrily as he said, 'come on let's go and pick up our purchase before the auctioneer leaves.'
The return journey with the two Gens was completed in almost total silence, and to Ryan's relief Michael made no attempt to communicate with his fellow Gen. Perhaps he had taken his words to heart Ryan thought as he lead the way into the hostelry and ordered food for all three of them to be sent up to his room.
The meal, when it arrived, was at least fresh and hot, if rather bland. The two Gens ate well while Ryan just picked at his own portion.
'For shen's sake Ryan, eat something. It might help, after all you're not exactly in Need yet, are you?'
'No. But food isn't going to help, either.'
'No, it won't.' He saw Michael open his mouth to argue further and quickly snapped back, 'give it a rest Michael, please
The female Gen jumped back and appeared to shrink back into herself shaking with fear as the Sime spoke.
besides you're frightening her,' Ryan pointed out as he waved a tentacle in her general direction which caused her to shake even more.
'I'm frightening her? That's rich, coming from you. For shen's sake, Ryan, put them away before she dies of shock.'
'What are you on about now? Put what away?'
'Your shenning tentacles!'
The Channel sighed out loud, as he complied with the order. 'Perhaps this was not such a good idea after all.'
'Really? Now fancy that.'
'Sarcasm isn't going to help matters,' Ryan said as he turned to stare at the female Gen. 'What's your name, girl?'
Her face drained of colour as she stared back at him in horror.
'Come on, I'm not going to hurt you.'
'Yet.' Michael said softly.
'Shut up! No, I don't mean you girl. Maybe she comes from down south,' Ryan said, musingly, as he tried again using a different dialect but she still stared back at him blankly, and then lowered her head looking down at her empty plate.
'Maybe she's deaf?' Michael suggested.
Ryan shook his head, 'I doubt it,' he said as he leaned towards her and lifted her chin with one tentacle to look into her eyes. Her chair flew backwards as she threw herself away from him, and landing on the floor, assumed a foetal position, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed with fear.
Instantly Michael knelt down beside her and touched her tentatively as he said soothingly, 'Come on now. Don't take on so. I promise we aren't going to hurt you
'Shut up Michael! That's a blatant lie, and you know it.'
'I know, but I'm only trying to calm her down; she obviously doesn't understand a word I'm saying.'
'I wouldn't be to sure about that.'
'What? You think she's play-acting?'
'Not exactly no, but I do believe she's far too frightened to think or speak coherently to either of us.'
'Well, your waving your tentacles under her nose doesn't help matters.'
'Perhaps not but...Oh, shen it to hell, the truth is I'm not used to pussyfooting around like this. I should have gone with my first idea and bought a Gen from the military just a few hours before I needed a Kill and that would have been that. Now I've got to keep my Kill for the next...'
'I don't understand what your problem is,' Michael said honestly.
'No, I don't suppose you do.' The Channel closed his eyes as he marshalled his thoughts and then said quietly, 'this way I have to live with her, look at her, see her as a living breathing
person, and know
know Michael, that as each moment of each day passes that she is destined to die under my tentacles. How do you think that makes me feel? How would you feel?'
'I couldn't do it,' the Gen said softly.
'And I have to. Or what's the alternative? Either she dies, you die, or someone else dies
or I die. Or, do you want me to commit suicide, Michael, because that is the only true alternative.'
'For shen's sake take me, Ryan. That's your alternative. At least I stand some chance of walking away from this mess, alive. That poor girl, or someone from the military, doesn't stand one chance in a million, and we both know it.'
'And, neither do you.'
'Well, at least I can try.'
'And, if you die?'
'Then at least it'll be one problem off your shoulders. You won't have to drag me around with you while you look for Denise or Probity. Am I wrong?'
'You are totally wrong. Do you honestly think that if I Killed you I could then just blithely chase around looking for Denise or Logram? If I Kill you, Michael, then it is over for me. I would have no alternative but to return to my mother's home and try to pick up the threads of my life there, for what that is worth.'
'And why would you do that?'
'If I Kill you then I do not believe I could ever disjunct again. I would remain a killer for the rest of my life. So tell me, Michael, how could I possibly offer myself to either Denise or Logram knowing that?'
'You make it sound so final. Perhaps it isn't. Maybe
well, maybe you can still disjunct again. You don't know anything for sure do you?'
Yes, I do Michael. I do. I sense it, here,' and he touched his temple with a tentacle, 'and here, too,' and he touched his heart with the fingers of his hand. I know that this is my one and only chance, if I now revert back to the killer I once was
there will not be another chance.'
'Then that's all the more reason to take me isn't it?' Ryan said firmly, 'and that being the case. What are we going to do with her? Hey, I think she's fallen asleep. She must be exhausted, poor girl.' Carefully he picked her up and placed her on the bed.
'I have not as yet agreed to any of this.' Ryan pointed out logically.
'Yes, you have. After all you have no other choice do you?'
'Choiceless.' The Channel said quietly.
'Exactly.' Michael smiled across at him. 'So answer my last question. What do we do with her, or shall we just let her go?'
'What?' Ryan stared at the young Gen, shock written large on his face. 'You don't honestly mean that, do you?'
'Of course I do. Why not? After all, she's a person, too, isn't she? She's entitled to her freedom.'
'And just how long do you think she will have this
freedom? Five minutes, perhaps an hour, before someone grabs her and Kills her? I might just as well keep her and use her myself.'
'So what else do we do?'
'We wait and see if she really is deaf, or if she can communicate with us. If she can, then we can ask her if she has any idea of what she herself wants to do. If she doesn't know, then I suggest we take her to the foothills of the Hollow Mountains and hope that the Wild Gens who reside there can take care of her.'
'Good idea. Now why don't you at least try to eat some of that food?' Michael said, yawning.
With a sigh of resignation Ryan picked up his fork with his tentacles and shovelled a small amount of the mashed vegetables into his mouth.
He glanced across at his friend who was already rubbing his eyes with tiredness. The Gen appeared to believe that everything was now resolved and that he, himself, would now serve his friend when the time came. But Ryan himself, was still not completely sure.
He knew he could not Kill the girl; not after getting to know her as he undoubtedly would in the next few days. Perhaps if he had just bought her, and Killed her within the hour, then it might not have been so hard but
no, it had all been a stupid idea from the start.
Yet, whatever Michael might say to the contrary, there was still the option of buying a Gen from the military; but for the time being at least he would say nothing about any of this to his Gen friend.
A shudder suddenly ran through his lithe frame as he considered and tossed aside the few alternatives left open to him, and still he came back to the military, and then finally, yet again, to Michael.
Closing his eyes he conceded silently, if only to himself, that he was in actual fact fighting himself; for deep down he knew that he wanted Michael. But this was a luxury, a Kill he could not allow himself to even think about, let alone actually carry through to fruition.
Suddenly he paused in his ruminations. Through all this he had constantly thought about a Kill not a transfer. An ice cold finger ran down his back. If he still required one clear reason why he should not lay a tentacle on Michael when his Need grew near, then that simple word Kill and not transfer said it all.
The next morning Ryan had quite literally pushed the girl into the bathroom noting that the window was much too small for her to climb out of, and afterwards he left the two Gens alone together while he went downstairs to order breakfast.
The female Gen had still not spoken a word to either of them, but had stared at him with wide eyes, as though he was indeed the devil incarnate, ready to steal her soul. Perhaps all Gens thought of Simes in that manner. It was not something he had seriously contemplated before, and it was not a comfortable thought to entertain.
Once the two Gens had eaten the fruit and cereal that made up their breakfast, the two men tried once again to communicate with the girl.
'Is there somewhere we can take you? Somewhere you'll be safe?' Michael asked yet again. 'Do you have a family who might take you back?'
'Stupid question,' Ryan muttered quietly, 'believe me the only reason her family would take her back would be to Kill her.'
The girl began to cry again.
'I think she understood what you were saying, and agrees with you,' Michael said quickly.
'Perhaps.' Ryan sighed. 'It seems the only thing we can do is to take her to the Hollow Mountains.'
'What happens if we can't find any of these Wild Gens when we get there? We can't just drop her off and walk away.'
'No? So what else do you suggest we do?'
I guess we
we'll have to look around till we find some of them, and hand her over.'
Ryan laughed out loud as he said sarcastically, 'Oh, yes. I can just see them looking at me and coming out for a friendly chat. More likely they'll try to slay me first, and leave any talking till much later.'
'You're right, of course; which means you wait some distance away and I'll take her into the mountains on my own.'
'And how do we know they won't try and capture you?'
'We don't. But at least they might try talking to me first, especially when they see that I'm one of them. I'm unarmed and not likely to fight them.'
'You're a very trusting soul, Michael. Do you know that?'
'As I recall, I trusted you when we first met,' the Gen pointed out.
'Yes you did, and you were damn lucky. Any other Sime would have attacked you for a prime Kill, especially after being in the sea for all those hours.' Ryan paused and then said, 'I just don't want you to run away with the idea that every Sime you meet will be like me; because, believe me, they won't.'
'Do you honestly think that I could go to that auction with you yesterday, and still believe that Simes aren't dangerous?' Michael asked and then his face softened as he reached across and touched the Channel gently on the shoulder before he said, 'you're a good man Ryan Farris, even if you are a Sime. Why do you think I trust you with my life?'
Ryan shook his head in near defeat as he replied, 'I don't know why you trust me, but I have come to the conclusion that you have become my conscience, at least until I develop one of my own.'
'Right, then. So we go with my plan? You wait in the foothills and I take her into the mountains.'
For a moment or two Ryan studied the wretched lump of humanity that was still sobbing on the floor in front of him wondering yet again why he had gone to the trouble of buying her, when deep down he had always known that he did not want to even touch her, and having acknowledged that point to himself, he finally agreed to Michael's plan.
It took the best part of half a day to reach the foothills, and Ryan zlinned the area ascertaining that, as far as he could tell, there was no one around. Neither Sime nor Gen.
'I just hope some of the Gens are at home and they're not all out hunting for food,' Michael stated as he prepared to lead the girl, on foot, into the mountains.
'It might take some time for them to make contact with you, so I won't look for you to return here till tomorrow morning at the earliest.' Ryan stated. 'If you haven't seen any of them by then,' he shrugged and then went on. 'We'll have to assume they've either moved their abode, or aren't interested in being neighbourly.'
'And the girl?'
'We'll have to decide what to do with her when, and if, the worst happens.'
'I'll find them.' Michael said firmly.
'Perhaps, but don't do anything stupid.' The Channel said as he watched the two Gens disappear into the mountains, zlinning them for as long as he was able before the rock finally swallowed them up.
Michael led the girl by the hand along the trail that Ryan had zlinned. It was a well-worn trail and he could only hope that he would soon find the Gens he was looking for.
On his back he had a bag that contained the makings of a fire. It also contained a bottle of water and food, enough to sustain the two of them both tonight and tomorrow morning. He could only hope that by the time it was used up he would have made contact with the Wild Gens, enabling him to hand the girl over to them. If not? Well like Ryan had said, that was a question he was not yet prepared to face.
Finding a suitable open space at the side of the trail where it widened out slightly, and indicating that his charge should sit down on the hard ground, Michael then set about lighting a fire. He made no attempt to either hide their presence, or to keep quiet as he prepared the meagre meal and handed it to the girl, keeping up a one sided conversation with her as he surreptitiously scanned the surrounding rock walls for any sign of movement. As far as he could tell, there was none.
Then fed up with talking to himself he decided to give her one last chance to speak for herself as he said, 'If you wont tell me your name, I'm going to have to pick one for you.' He studied her closely and then with a grin said, 'how about I call you Sandy? I grew up on an island, and my mother used to make up stories for me about a boy and girl who once lived there, she called the girl Sandy, because the island was almost entirely covered in golden sand.' He paused, waiting for her to say something. She did not, and after a short while he gave up.
As the first satellite rose in the dark sky the two Gens settled down to sleep. The girl's breathing quickly settled down into the even rhythm of deep sleep, while Michael lay curled up on his side facing away from the fire as he endeavoured to pretend sleep. Several times, as the night dragged on, he got up to throw more wood onto the fire. Glad that at least it was a clear night with a multitude of stars shining down out of the velvet darkness, and there were no clouds to threaten rain.
Where the shen were these Gens he had heard so much about? They seemed to be non-existent. Perhaps they were a myth put about by the Simes to lure unsuspecting Gens into a trap? No, he dismissed the idea at once. If that were indeed the case, Ryan would have known about it, and would never have allowed him to bring the girl into the mountains in the first place. It could be, of course, that they had all been rounded up and taken to the nearest auction, and since he had no idea of exactly how many Wild Gens actually lived in the mountains... well that might be feasible: and at some point in the long cold night he finally fell asleep.
The next morning he woke up to find that he was aching in every part of his body from lying on the hard rock. The fire had gone out, and for several minutes he lay on his back staring up at the ice blue sky. The two moons had both disappeared and the Sun had not yet risen high enough in the sky to show above the tops of the mountains surrounding him.
Now what should he do? The long night was over, and he had been hoping that the Wild Gens would have paid him a visit. They had not. Indeed, as far as he could ascertain from scanning the rock walls there was still no one around here. All he could do, for the moment, was prepare the small amount of food they had left for their breakfast, then wake his female companion and set off once again in search of the Gens.
Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes and stretched his cramped arms before he finally clambered to his feet. It was only then that he realised that he was alone. The girl had gone.
Instantly wide-awake he looked up and down the trail and up at the surrounding walls of the mountain on either side. Could she have gone to relieve herself? If so, she would probably have gone to the same place he had taken her to last night. He quickly made his way to where the fissure ran into the mountainside. It did not seem right to just go barging inside; she was, after all, entitled to a modicum of privacy he thought as he skidded to a halt.
After a few moments detecting no movement or noise close by he called out softly to her, 'Hey are you in there, Sandy? I don't want to disturb you but can you throw a small rock to let me know you're there, and I won't come in.' There was no reply. Finally making up his mind Michael moved slowly into the fissure and after walking thirty feet or so inside he came to a dead end but there was no sign of the girl.
Hurrying back to their camp he looked around for footprints, but if there were any leading away from the fire they could not be seen on the hard rock surface. One thing he did notice however, and he kicked himself for not noticing it before the water bottle, and remainder of their food had all disappeared; and that being so, what should he do? It had not occurred to him that she would have the initiative not only to run away, but also to take their few provisions with her.
Cupping his hands around his mouth to enable his voice to carry further he yelled at the top of his voice, 'SANDY SANDY WHERE ARE YOU?' For the best part of an hour he kept calling out until finally his throat was beginning to feel sore and he stopped, as he conceded that it was useless. She obviously had no intention of answering him.
It also proved that there were no Wild Gens in the vicinity either, unless they were stone deaf. Indeed, he could only hope that the girl herself would have better luck in finding them.
Finally, he conceded angrily, that she could be anywhere by now, for he had no idea when she had actually left the camp, which could have been any time during the long night hours after he had fallen asleep.
Ryan would probably say that he should have tied her up
but who would have thought that she would have left the warmth of the fire and gone on her own into the mountains? She had seemed to be such a pathetic little thing; after all, for all she knew the mountains could be swarming with wild animals not counting Wild Gens! And not all Gens could be depended upon to act like decent human beings, many would, no doubt, be only too pleased to take advantage of a young Gen female travelling on her own.
He sighed out loud. At least if she had stayed with him, he would have endeavoured to find a group of Gens that had females as well as males with them; a group that would have taken her in and looked after her as best they could.
He kicked aimlessly at the dead embers of the fire in his frustration. She was gone, and he had to face that unpalatable fact since there was nothing more that he could do. He could only hope that she would find the Gens who would help her, and not those who would take advantage of her.
Then, finally taking one last look around him, he slowly began to trace his steps back the way he had come. Back to Ryan, and back to his own uncertain future.
He found Ryan waiting for him. The Sime was sitting on the ground with his back to him and Michael wondered briefly if he had been able to creep up on his friend without his knowledge. This idea was quickly shattered as the Channel suddenly said without turning around, 'You're back sooner than I expected. I take it you found the Wild Gens more quickly than I anticipated?'
'Not really. She ran off in the night and took the last of the food with her,' he said bluntly, as he hunkered down beside Ryan and began to riffle through the Sime's bag until he found the remainder of their food. 'I'm starving. Do you mind if I finish this lot off? Can you wait till later?'
'Eat what you like,' Ryan said as he waved a tentacle in his general direction. 'The way I feel at the moment, it wouldn't bother me if I never saw food again.'
'You'll soon feel better now I'm back,' Michael said confidently.
The Channel grunted before he said grudgingly, 'There might be some truth in that assertion.' He laughed harshly before he said, 'so she ran away from you, did she?'
'Yes, and I wish you'd been there. You might have been able to zlin her whereabouts. For all I know she could have been hiding behind one of the rocks and pulling faces at me. One thing I am sure about, is that there were no Gens within a mile of that place.'
'Because I spent the best part of an hour yelling my head off calling to her, and not even a Gen could have slept through that!'
'I believe you,' Ryan said as he bit back a smile, 'you're just lucky there were no Sime hunters in the area, or you might not have been so lucky.'
Michael swallowed the last mouthful of food as he turned to stare at his friend. 'You know, Ryan, I never even gave that a thought,' he said honestly. 'By the way have you any of those chocolates left, or did you eat them all last night?'
'Yes, I have, and no, I didn't.' Ryan said at once before he pointed out. 'However, since you've demolished the remainder of our food supply, perhaps we should leave the chocolates till later; just in case we don't find somewhere to buy food for several hours.'
Michael reluctantly capitulated to the suggestion as they both scrambled to their feet, and gathered their belongings together.
'You know, I'm sure I shall have nightmares about Sandy for days to come,' Michael murmured, 'wondering if she's safe.'
The Gen explained.
Ryan shook his head ruefully before he said. 'You know Michael one of the very first things that my father taught me about being a Sime was this never personalise the Gens! Maybe I should have told you that before you took Sandy into the mountains.'
Michael glanced across at him. 'Maybe you should have,' he agreed, as they led the horses back onto the trail before he asked, 'so where are we making for now?'
Ryan zlinned in every direction as he said, 'A short while after I first disjuncted, Logram the head Channel decided it was time to trust me, and he sent me to Boston with Nik, one of the renSimes who was going to visit his parents. At the same time he asked me to pick up an order of herbs for their cook. I did this, and then while I waited for him to return I took a stroll around the town, and I was lucky enough to see Nik coming out of one of the houses.
'When we met up and I mentioned it to him, he said it was not his parents' home, but that of an acquaintance.' The Channel laughed mirthlessly as he admitted, 'I was never entirely sure whether what he said was true, or if he simply said that because he didn't trust me completely, and thought it best not to implicate his people.'
'Sensible fellow. I would probably have done the same.' Michael admitted.
'With hindsight, I agree with you. However, it does give us a starting point. Whether his parents live there or it is just a friend's house, they will undoubtedly have some idea of the whereabouts of Nik and ergo Probity.'
'Let's hope you're right. But what makes you think they'll help us? After all, they must have heard that it was your fault that Probity had to leave the farm in the first place,' he pointed out, logically.
'Of course. But there's where you come in,' the Channel said almost smugly.
Michael stared at him eyebrows raised in query.
'I'll simply tell them that I am trying to find Logram so that I can ask him to give you sanctuary.'
The Gen nodded his head slowly as he conceded, 'The fact that it happens to be true might also help; and being Sime they should be able to zlin that you're being honest with them.'
'We can but try.'
'I agree since we don't have that many alternatives open to us. Get down off the horse, Michael. We're approaching a tavern so you'd better start walking.'
'Let's hope they have a good assortment of food for us to choose from.' The Gen said, hopefully.
Ryan looked around at the bleak landscape before he said honestly, 'Don't expect too much. You'll be lucky if they serve a vegetable stew and possibly some fruit, although I doubt we'll be that lucky.'
'You're probably right; but look on the bright side; we still have the chocolates for later.'
'I see nothing bright about food or chocolates at the moment Michael, and even your constant state of hunger, doesn't seem to do much for me.' The Channel admitted flatly.
'That's because you've been zlinning everything but me, when we get into a room together and you don't have to give all your attention to other things. I guarantee you'll feel as hungry as I do.'
Ryan looked across at the cheerful face of his friend and shook his head before he said ruefully, 'You must truly be the most optimistic Gen I have ever come into contact with. I'm sure you'll fit in very well at Probity.'
They arrived at the tavern to find it looking run down and dilapidated. Thankfully, however, the interior was better than the exterior, and the room that Ryan booked them for the night was at least clean. However the food when it arrived was exactly as the Channel had predicted a hot vegetable stew with thick slices of bread, and no fruit.
Michael fell on the repast with obvious pleasure and quickly polished it off along with all the bread, and then he grinned wryly but remained silent as the Sime managed to eat his own small dish of stew.
After a moment or two the Gen turned to stare at the Channel.
The Sime tipped his head to one side in query as he finally asked, 'Well, what is it?'
'Er... I was wondering if
? Do you think our finances might run to a little more stew?'
A short while later Ryan sat and studied the Gen as he wondered where all the food had gone? The youth had eaten another large bowl of stew and was now finishing off the last of the chocolates; yet Michael was not fat by any stretch of the wildest imagination. Indeed, if anything, he could only be called slender. Sime slender, which along with his red curls and good looks made him look absurdly young and as he had observed before, almost feminine.
Ryan bit his lip thoughtfully. If in the future they had to hide from the military or other pursuers, then at a pinch the boy could well be passed off as a girl. He had no doubt at all that the Gen would vigorously oppose such a suggestion, but in a tight spot it could just work, and in an emergency, it would have to be considered.
After all if his mother did send anyone after him, surely they would be looking for a male Sime travelling alone, unless she decided that he had somehow met up with Denise? No! He answered his own question as he shook his head emphatically. There was no reason at all why she should presume that: and that being the case, the Gen might well prove to be a suitable decoy, if someone was sent to find him.
The next morning they left the tavern shortly after dawn, Michael having first eaten a large bowl of cooked oats and honey. Ryan who refused to even try to eat anything, paid their bill also buying several pieces of bread and fruit which he stowed in a basket on their third horse for later in the day.
Heading in the general direction of Boston, Ryan set off across country leaving the main road behind them, and stopping at midday for Michael to eat the bread and fruit, which, thankfully, was also juicy enough to act as a drink. Since both he and Ryan had forgotten to fill their water bottles before setting out.
'You know, I wasn't even thirsty until I knew we had no water with us.' Michael stated suddenly.
'It's only psychological. Think about something else.'
'That's all well and good
and what do you mean it's only psychological?' He demanded.
'It's all in the mind. Now, do as I say. Think about something else.'
'Well, don't ask me. I have enough worries of my own.'
'So tell me about them.'
'You just told me to think about something else.'
'That's right, I did.'
'So tell me what you're worried about, and then I'll be able to think about that, instead of a large glass of ice cold water.'
Ryan closed his eyes and shook his head before he said bluntly, 'I was just wondering what I do if Nik's friend in Boston decides not to help us find Probity, after all, I have no other leads to follow.'
'We have no other leads to follow Ryan WE not I. There are two of us involved in this, you know.'
'Sorry it's a bad habit. I was taught from the cradle up that even if I was in a room full of Gens then
' He shrugged his shoulders and grinned ruefully as he went on, 'you understand what I'm saying.'
'Unfortunately, I do. Gens are people, too, my friend, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the better.'
'I'm doing my best.'
'I know you are.' For several moments the two men rode in silence until Michael suddenly said, 'Suppose I go and speak to these people on my own without you? Now hear me out before you say no. As I recall, you said that Nik had probably told his parents and his friends that you had left Probity and had taken Denise with you.' The Channel nodded his head. 'He would also undoubtedly have told them who you are, and according to what you've told me about your family, then your face must be well known around here.' Again the Sime nodded his head. 'And that being so, I very much doubt after they've taken one good look at that face of yours that they'll believe one word you say to them, no matter how many times or how deeply they zlin you. Tell me, Ryan, am I wrong in my assumption?'
'No, you're not wrong.' The Channel admitted grudgingly.
'So, nothing. Have you considered the fact that we have no idea if Nik's parents, or his friends, are still living in Boston. For all we know they might have decided that it was too dangerous for them to go on living there. You could find yourself facing a very unfriendly Sime who is quite prepared to Kill you, and what do you do then, my friend?'
'I kill him?'
'You might try. I very much doubt if you will be successful. As I have said before, a Sime is quite prepared to take your life without a single thought about who or what you are. You, on the other hand, would hesitate
and that hesitation would see the end of you.'
'You're right, I don't think I could kill someone in cold blood.'
'Not cold blood, Michael. Hot blood very, very hot blood,' the Channel said with a tired smile.
whatever. I still think I should do it, and not you. After all, as you've also said before, what do we have to lose? Besides you could always be hiding away at the side somewhere, ready to jump in if anything goes wrong.'
'And I would be zlinned the moment the door was opened, if not before.'
'Can't you hide your field or something?'
but Michael, I honestly think that this is a very bad idea. In fact, I think my original idea is much better.'
'You go up to the door with me in tow and say you're looking for Probity because you want them to give me sanctuary?' The Channel nodded his agreement. 'And if they say they've never heard of Probity and have no idea who or what Probity is, then what?'
'They could say the same thing if you ask them, and not me.' Ryan pointed out.
'Maybe, but if they really do know Nik then they are far more likely to be helpful when they zlin that I'm a Gen who is genuinely asking for their help, rather than a member of the infamous Farris family who kidnapped Denise and threatened to raise the whole of Probity to the ground! Or am I wrong about that?'
'No, of course not, and much as I hate to admit it you're right, in this instance, too. My family name and face are far more of a hindrance than a help.' Ryan finally conceded.
'So I go and ask on my own, agreed?'
'Yes, all right you go and ask; but I'll be hiding close by just in case the Simes who live there now, are not Nik's friends.'
'You can hide your field well enough?' Michael asked with a grin, his eyebrows raised challengingly.
The Channel merely looked at him with disdain before he went on, 'And I just hope there's suitable cover near by, like a bush or a tree, after all even if he or she doesn't zlin me they might just see me you know, unless they happen to be blind.'
The Gen gave a bark of laughter as he said, 'Stop being a worry wart. I'll manage, somehow.'
'And that's what bothers me.'
By mid-afternoon they had reached the outskirts of Boston, tethered the horses close by, and settled down to await nightfall.
Michael was the first one to break the silence as he asked, 'Is there a tavern near here?'
'Several, I would imagine. Why?'
'Well it may have slipped your memory but since breakfast all I've had to eat is a slice of stale bread and a few scabby pieces of fruit. I'm starving!'
'You always are.' The Channel sighed and then said, bluntly. 'I can't understand why you're so thin.'
'So, tell me my friend, how the shen am I likely to get fat on a bowl of oats and three pieces of fruit?' The Gen demanded.
'Today, yes, that's all you've had so far. But yesterday, as I recall, you hardly stopped eating!' The Channel pointed out before they both again fell silent.
'Shall we go now?'
'I can still zlin a lot of movement in the streets, give it another hour for people to settle down in their houses,' he advised.
Some time later Michael, who was already sure that far more than an hour had gone by, was just about to ask how much longer they had to wait when Ryan got quickly to his feet, and seeing the Gen struggling to do the same held out his hand and pulled him up.
'Thanks,' he murmured as he tried to rub life back into legs.
The Channel nodded and then remembering that Michael probably couldn't see him in the darkness said, 'This way follow me,' and gave a slight yank on the Gen's chain to emphasize the point.
'I can't see my hand in front of my face. You'd better warn me if I'm likely to trip over something. It won't help matters if I end up with a broken ankle.'
lower your voice. Sound carries at night.'
'How far is it anyway?'
The Gen bit back an angry retort and settled down to following in the Channel's footsteps. 'We're here.'
Michael moved to stand at the Sime's side as both men studied the small wood and rock built house whose roof, like most houses in this area, was thatched with reed from the nearby river.
A narrow dirt path wound its way through an overgrown grass front yard up to the wooden front door. The nearest cover, as far as either man could ascertain, was an untidy looking cactus-type bush more or less in the middle of what might laughingly be called a garden.
'Think you can hide yourself behind that?' Michael whispered in his ear.
'Perhaps, if I crouch down,' the Sime whispered back.
'Come on then, let's go. The sooner we get this over and done with, the sooner we find a tavern and eat.'
Ryan snorted as he turned to the Gen and wrapped the chain loosely around his neck and shoulders. 'Stand well back from the door just in case,' he warned, although he was well aware that if the wrong renSime opened the door it would make little difference whether Michael was standing twelve inches or twelve feet away, but it made the Channel feel better.
Ryan studied the corner of the house and briefly wondered whether that would make a better hiding place and would be closer to Michael than the cactus bush; finally deciding that it would make little difference either way. Under full augmentation it was in the lap of the Gods whether he or the unknown renSime would get to Michael first. Although the bush, at least, faced the front door more or less square on so that he could see as well as zlin what was happening from the corner of the house he could only zlin.
For the first time in his life a shudder of genuine fear ran through him for the safety of a Gen!