"Are you ready yet?" Alissa questioned as she cautiouslyapproached the desk where the Sectuib sat. It was time for histransfer. Alissa had been exploring the grounds and had suddenlyrealized the sun was almost overhead. She had rushed right over,fearing she would be late, only to find the new Sectuib of Carrein a meeting. Both she and the Sectuib seemed to be having problemslearning to organize their time, she thought as she'd ploppeddown in a chair outside his office.
She had patiently waited, not sure yet if she required permissionto interrupt him on a matter such as this, not certain she reallywanted to. When the meeting ended, she had entered, careful tokeep a tight rein on her emotions as she posed the question.
Tannon glanced up at her approach. "Just let me finish thesenotes and I'll be all set."
Alissa nodded, then wandered aimlessly around the spacious officewhile she waited, noticing that some of the various plants thatcluttered the area around the chairs and sofa on the far sideof the room hadn't lately been watered.
She stopped to study a beautiful tapestry over the fireplace depictingthe birth of the House of Carre. Every time she'd been in thisroom she'd been inexplicably drawn to the masterpiece that toldof a group of struggling people who had belonged nowhere, pullingtogether to build a home for themselves.
Simes and Gens working together. She still had trouble acceptingit. Her gaze traveled to the bookcases that lined the wall behindTannon's desk, filled with many different books, including oneon Householding history, which she had almost read, several times.What must it be like to belong? she mused, her gaze riveted onthe book.
Alissa walked quietly over to a chair in front of Tannon and sat.He worked on the stack of reports, the only sound his scratchingpen and the occasional song of birds that drifted in on the peacefulbreeze.
Since she'd healed from their accident on the trail, she hadn'tseen much of him, and she missed their daily meetings. He markedout something on the paper before him and began again. Alissa,seeing his impatience in his abrupt movements, was surprised sincehe usually kept it so well hidden. He hadn't allowed her to seeit when they had first met or she wouldn't have trusted him. Shehad come to depend on him those first torturous days after she'destablished and was running from Antoch; Antoch--the man who murderedboth her mother and the former Sectuib in Carre. Having been raisedin-Territory, her mother a pen Gen dealer, she'd known what wouldhappen to her if she was caught. That would be better than Antochgetting his hands on her after she'd established. A quicker deathalways was. He had hated her mother and been responsible for herdeath by attrition. Alissa couldn't even imagine what he mighthave planned for her. She had run, heading for out-Territory,her only hope. Had the former Sectuib in Carre not intervened,she would have died on the trail. And again, later, Tannon ambrovCarre, the only survivor of her earlier helpers, came again toher rescue.
She and Tannon had been lucky to escape with their lives. Andeven though she'd been heading for the border, Tannon had broughther here, among his friends, where she was to learn his ways.She hadn't known what to expect. She certainly hadn't expectedthe close relationship she'd begun to develop on the trail withTannon to change, hadn't known that his hard work as Sectuib andher adjusting to a whole new way was about to pre-empt the friendshipthat had been born through trials. Ever since she'd watched Tannonacknowledge his new title of Sectuib in the official ceremony,he'd been too busy with Householding affairs to sit around inthe evenings and chat.
Tannon glanced at her and frowned. "What's the matter?"He studied her closely.
Realizing she had distracted him, she clamped down firm controlon her emotions. "Nothing. My mind had just wandered to thelast time..." She let it trail off.
"Well, it brought us together, didn't it?" He laid hispen aside. "You'll do just fine, again. You've learned alot since coming here."
"I wonder if you're not making a mistake having me serveyou this second time. There are other Companions ..."
"Still worried? Antoch's men murdered two of Carre's topCompanions and we've not been able to replace them yet. You'rethe only one who can match me."
"No." She hesitated, realizing he hadn't meant to soundso desperate, yet she knew she had to make him understand howimportant it was to her that he find someone, anyone, else fortransfer. In the short time she'd been at Carre, she'd watchedTannon mature in his role as the new Sectuib. She was happy forhim, but she wouldn't stay and give up her dream to live in peace,among her own people, Gen people, away from the kill. She hedged."I just know there must be someone better ..."
"Maybe, but you're here and your system is producing enoughselyn for me, according to my need." He ran a hand throughhis hair. "Come on. With you sitting there waiting, I can'tthink."
Still, she hesitated, feeling she was making a mistake. She hadto talk with him. What if she ruined this transfer for him? Aftermonths of being shorted, he was looking forward to this with greatanticipation. He'd told her over and over that she was perfectfor him, that he'd found someone who could accept his draw withouthis holding back. And although she had given transfer last month,it hadn't been under ideal circumstances. He required a good transferthis month and she wanted to see him get it.
He stood and indicated the door. "Don't worry. You'll dofine. I need you."
Alissa heard the drop in the timbre of his voice, felt herselfresponding to the sudden coaxing quality that had crept in. Unsure,she allowed him to lead her to a small, side room furnished fortransfers. Inside the insulated room was a reclining couch, atray filled with medications, and a small burner with a teapotand tea beside it. She wrinkled her nose at the medicinal smell.
This room was so sterile compared to the first time. There wasno noise, and, true, no danger. The area was quiet, decoratedin cool, bland shades, but it was so stiff and formal. She rememberedthe pens; the lust of need as the pathetic creatures were claimedfor the kill. So ritualized, regulated, so accepted. Was it tobe like that here? No emotion? A duty to be completed? But sheknew better. It couldn't be that different from her last experience.She could feel herself already responding to his need. Althoughshe was afraid serving him would be a mistake, she couldn't helpbut desire it. It might be the last time she could be a Companionto Tannon.
Alissa studied him while he put some water on to boil. He hadgained some weight since his harrowing ordeal last month. Hisdark, wavy hair brushed his collar. His long, slender fingerswere steady as he checked the medications on the table beforereturning to her side. She so desperately wanted this to be agood transfer.
Obviously, Tannon could tell this from her nager because he groanedand sat down heavily by her, his tentacles quivering slightly.
He seemed to realize something else was bothering her, but musthave brushed it aside as this being only her second transfer.He took her hands. "Relax," he said. "This willbe a lot easier than last time."
She smiled and leaned toward him with a sudden desperation.
His tentacles lashed out, wrapping around her arms and then hislaterals touched her. Suddenly, the wonderful feeling of a monthago washed over her. She was giving to this Sime who had savedher life. Tannon's need drove her to wrench control from him andshe began to push selyn faster, giving more than just selyn, givingof herself, something she couldn't explain, offering it to thisSime who required it. A euphoria built in her before crestingin sudden bliss.
Alissa felt as if she were floating on a cloud the joy was sosweet. Slowly, she came back to herself and realized the transferwas complete. She could hear their quickened breathing, hear thewater boiling as it waited for the tea leaves to be added, beforeit was shared between two friends. She felt Tannon loosen histentacles and she slowly opened her eyes.
"Slibliss!" Tannon breathed out as he released Alissa.Before she could say anything, he leaned into her and kissed hergently. "That was one of the best transfers I've ever had.We won't have any problem making you my Companion once you'vepledged to Carre."
Standing, he jerked her into his arms in an enormous bear hugand jubilantly twirled her around. He set her on her feet. "Iwant you to be a qualified Companion and pledge. Then with transferslike that we ..."
She turned away, knowing in that moment Tannon would feel herown gut-wrenching sorrow. She felt him touch her shoulder. Witha tentacle, he turned her face back toward him, only to see theunshed tears in her eyes.
"What's the matter?" he questioned, watching her closely.
The glow on his face quickly clouded over, his hand quiveringslightly in reaction to her turbulent emotions that were surfacing.Smelling the special soap he used because of his allergies, shewas suddenly overcome with guilt. She jerked back and wrappedher arms around her middle as if in physical pain, and at thispoint, she wasn't sure that she wasn't.
"I don't think now would be a good time to discuss this.Let's wait until tonight."
Tannon reached out and snagged her sleeve, stopping her from turningaway. "No. Let's address this now. What is it? What's thematter?"
"Tannon--" she began only to walk nervously to the otherside of the room. "Tannon," she said again and swivelled,ready to confront him, but instead, showed her obvious surpriseto find him directly in front of her. Evidently, he knew somethingwas very wrong. Sighing in exasperation, she looked up belligerently.She didn't like being pushed and he was insisting she tell himwhat was bothering her, not willing to wait, no matter how itmight upset him. And therein lay the problem. She just wasn'tsure how badly her words would affect his post transfer condition.
"Tell me." It was a command.
She gave in, carefully replying, "I never said I was goingto pledge."
"What?!" he demanded, stunned. Tannon's pent up emotionsof the past weeks twisted his face in disbelief, fear, anger."After what just happened? Why, you'd make one of the bestCompanions ..."
She defended herself against the betrayal in his voice. "ButI've told you from the beginning I was going to Gen Territory!That's where my new life lies. I want to live in peace where thereare no walls around me, a place where I can come and go as I please.I'm sick of the kill. I grew up with it as a daily part of mylife, remember? I don't want to have children one day who haveto live where that is so much a part of the culture."
Putting her hand on his arm, she continued, quietly, "I wantmore. Can't you understand my dream? No kills. A place where I'mnot gawked at when I'm allowed to go beyond walls. Walls! I wanta place where I don't have to live behind walls. I've beentalking to Lemel and he told me about Ariot, the man who livesnear the border, and how he might help me cross over. When Lemelestablished, Ariot had a sister who was willing to take Lemelin until he learned the language and customs, but Lemel changedhis mind and came here. He thought that Ariot might help me, sohe went and spoke with him. Lemel said Ariot was more than willing..."
"So, you've already decided?" he asked, his voice tingedwith anger. "Why didn't you tell me before ... before that?"He waved a tentacle toward the couch. Understanding dawned onhis face. "That was goodbye?"
She knew by his expression that he had read the answer in hereyes. He turned his back on her, then questioned, stiffly, "Whendo you leave?"
Alissa heard his choked voice and knew he'd turned simply becausehe refused to allow her to see his reaction.
Her heart ached in remorse for the pain she was causing this compassionate,caring Sime. But how could she stay when everything in her criedout for normality? She had to go out-Territory and find whereshe belonged. She had to fulfill her dreams.
With a heavy heart, she reached toward him in one instant of indecision,but then let her hand fall uselessly to her side.
She couldn't do it. She had to go. In that moment, she decidedif she was going to make the break, it should be immediate andcomplete.
"I leave tomorrow morning," she replied tonelessly.
"Well, since we have nothing more to say, since we've alreadysaid goodbye ..." He suddenly stiffened and whirled to faceher. "I want you here, with me. I don't believe you'll leavemy people in the lurch like this, Alissa. You know the desperatestate Carre is presently in. I can't believe ..."
Alissa only stared helplessly into his angry, brown eyes.
"So be it. But don't be surprised if those walls you'reso scared of follow you as you pursue your dream." Turningon his heel, he stalked from the room.
"No!" Alissa cried out, wanting him to return so shecould explain, not understanding what he meant and wanting himto clarify himself too. "No," she said more quietlyas she listened to his booted footsteps echoing hollowly off thewalls. Hearing a sound, she glanced toward the counter and realizedthe quiet gurgle was the boiling water that would now not be sharedbetween two friends. She sank slowly to the floor, defeated, finallygiving rein to her turbulent emotions, allowing her pent up tearsto flow freely.
Alissa didn't see Tannon again after he stormed out of the room.She tried to find him the next morning to say goodbye, but hewasn't around.
It had saddened her at first, but on the way to Ariot's house,she had realized that it wasn't her fault if he couldn't understandher dream. His dream was the Householding, while hers was to belong,to live in peace, not fear, not to have to witness the murdersand killings of so many people. Sure, she could have stayed atCarre. But those reminders of the violence would still be there;the hostility toward a pervert and his Gen whenever they wentinto town, the pennant always overhead, memories of her brother'sdeath over the very issues Carre supported--Sime and Gen unity.No. The farther away she could get from all Simes, the better.She wanted a life among people like herself.
Yesterday she had said good-bye to the friends who had smuggledher to Ariot's. Now she was about to say hello to her new family,the Stalleighs.
Alissa pulled her small bag of belongings close to her chest,staring in trepidation at the two story white farm house one walllined with clinging ivy, another the paint looking weathered,battered by years of weather. Now that the time was here, shewasn't sure she could walk up those three small steps to the porchand knock on the rickety screen door. She didn't know anythingabout these people, their customs, their lives. What had she beenthinking to come here?
In the sudden grip of panic, she turned to start back down thedusty path when she heard a burst of girlish laughter followedby the squeak of the front door. Her shoulders sank. It was toolate to turn back. Besides where would she go? Just nervousness,she reassured herself. This was a big change for her. Of courseshe wanted to be here.
She pivoted on her toes and resolutely walked toward the house,where a curious young girl was standing, holding a babbling littlechild in her arms.
The girl was no more than sixteen, her waist-length brown hairat present being pulled by the little one in her arms. Surelythe blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler couldn't be hers.
Returning her attention to the person holding the little imp,Alissa found the beautiful, young girl eying her curiously, obviouslywaiting for her to speak.
Alissa stopped at the bottom step and said in heavily accentedGenlan, "Ariot sent me."
The girl's shock was obvious. "Mama," she yelled intothe house.
Alissa stayed the impulse to shift her weight. No reason for themto see how nervous she was, and indeed she was, if this reactionwas an example of what to expect from everyone she met. Quietly,Alissa waited. And it was as if nature waited with her as therewas suddenly no breeze, no sound of birds, nor even the soundof the barking dog she'd heard earlier. Even the sun was temporarilyblocked by a passing cloud. Her tension built until she openedher mouth to ask if she had the wrong house.
At that moment a middle-aged woman came walking to the door, wipingher hands on an apron. "What is it, Jeanetta? Oh, I see we'vecompany." Smiling kindly, she continued, "I don't thinkI've met you before, dear. You're new to the community?"
Alissa reached into her bag and pulled out a note that Ariot hadhurriedly scrawled just before sending her off. "Ariot sentme," she repeated, feeling awkward and unsure. This tawny-hairedlady's reaction wasn't anything like her daughter's, to Alissa'srelief.
"Oh, my," she gushed in delight. "You've had quitea trip. Please come in." She hastened forward and took thecarpet bag from Alissa, placing an arm around her and usheringher through the door. "My name is Leonie. That there is Jeanettaand Kimmy, as we call her. I'm so happy that Ariot sent you tous. We're always so glad for company. It's rare that we see someonefrom Sime Territory, but after all those years ago when we helpedAriot, he told us if he ever found someone who wanted help escapingfrom that horrid territory, he might send them to us. It's a shamehe has to live there, even more sad that he changed over ..."
She continued to ramble. Alissa tried to pay attention, but thebeauty of the house captured her. A wooden structure with large,airy rooms, it was unlike anything she'd ever seen. The livingroom had a couch and four chairs with a small latch rug spreadacross the floor in front of the fireplace. The lace curtainsfluttered in the soft breeze, sending the smell of fresh strawberrypie through the room. A slight rustling of paper, caused by sketchingstacked on one wall, drew her attention. They were pictures ofthe area. One was of a body of water, half rotted trees in itthat had moss hanging on the dead branches. Another was of a hugetree, its branches stretching out in every direction, lookinglike a huge monster from someone's worst nightmare. To counterthe severe scene was the simple wooden swing tied in the lowerbranches. And one ... Alissa fought back tears ... one was thefamily of whose house she was in. Besides the three people she'dalready met, there was a boy of about fourteen who looked justlike the man next to him, although the man was close to forty,his dark black hair streaked with gray.
Her family had no pictures like that. Indeed, her father had desertedthem the night her brother was murdered. Only two years laterher mother died of attrition. She shuddered.
Sime Territory. All it brought was death. And she knew that fromwatching the people come and go daily, claiming their Gen fromthe pens, which her mother had run.
"... but of course you just have to come on in and sit downnow in the kitchen and have a piece of the pie I just baked. Iwant to hear all about your life. Yes, I think we're going toget along quite well. Come along now. Jeanetta, take her bag upstairsto the spare room, honey. We'll be in the kitchen when you'redone."
Alissa smiled. She'd found a place to belong.
* * *
The next weeks were quite a struggle for her as she tried to adaptto the foreign ways of these people. There seemed to be only onemajor problem that kept her from an easy adjustment.
"No! No, no, no!" Alissa woke with a start. She lookedaround at the darkened room as reality returned. It had been adream. No, more like a recurring nightmare. Would she ever forgetCarre or its Sectuib?
Everything would be fine if she could banish from her mind thatlast day with Tannon. But instead, thoughts of the Householdingplagued her. Was he okay? Did they have enough Companions now,as his time approached again? Her guilt was still evident, showingitself nightly in her dreams.
She slid the covers back, padded over to the windows and shovedthem open with a bang. Almost one month now since she had leftCarre. She sighed as she looked out over the peaceful land. Pullingher hair from her neck, she began to fan it. Another muggynight. She was happy here as long as she relegated the pastto where it belonged--in the past. Leonie had been wonderful sinceshe'd been here. She and Jeanetta both helped her with her Genlanand she had slowly lost the worst part of her accent. At leastthey could understand her now.
She heard faint stirring down the hall and knew Leonie and Merrickwere up and would soon be downstairs to start another day. Listening,she could hear their cow bawling, ready to be milked. In the distance,the faint squawking indicated that dawn was surely on its way.Another day on the Stalleigh's farm. But this wasn't just anotherday to Alissa. Today she was going into town for the first time.She'd awakened just about every hour throughout the night, unableto sleep, thinking about her trip. To meet her neighbors in L'hase.It was going to be wonderful to belong here, to be a part of peopleso like herself. Well, sort of like herself, she amended. Thepeople here did have strange customs, different ways, but shewas happy now, except when she had those nightmares--Afterwhat just happened ... you'd make one of the best Companions ..."
"Shen and shid," she cursed in Simelan. "You hauntme even in my dreams, Tannon."
She poured some water in a bowl on the small stand in the cornerand began to sponge herself. Those memories would be put to resttoday when she met other people. Today she would become part ofthe community, make friends, have other things to occupy her mind.Today was another step to fulfilling her dreams.
She quickly dressed, then began to comb her unruly mass of hairinto a semblance of order. Merrick hadn't wanted her to go, butLeonie had finally convinced him people might start to get suspiciousif she didn't act normally. They'd start to question Alissa'spast and why she stayed secluded. And for some reason, Merrickseemed overly concerned no one find out about her short stay ata Householding. She was to tell any curious seekers that her uncle,Leonie's brother, had sent her to visit with them. She didn'tlike the fabrication, but allowed it, since Merrick insisted itwas necessary.
She stopped in front of the mirror to check her appearance, decidingto pull her light brown hair up off her neck. She critically surveyedthe circles under her blue eyes. Well, there was nothing she coulddo about those.
Hurrying out of the room, she stopped only long enough to getKimmy, who was crying, before flying down the stairs.
"Good morning," she sang out as she sailed into thebreakfast room and placed Kimmy in her chair.
"Well, girl, it looks like you've not forgotten our discussionlast night," Merrick teased her, grinning.
"No, sir. And thank you so much for ..."
"No bother." Merrick's face sobered. "Before yougo, there are some things we should explain to you about the Churchof the Purity. The chances of your encountering anything are unlikely,but still ..."
"I'm sure everything will be fine. They can't be any worsethan our own religions," Alissa replied, unwilling to havea weed planted in her garden of dreams, unconsciously lumpingherself with the Simes. Alissa sat and began to feed Kimmy, blowingslightly on the cereal before spooning it into the mouth of theravenous child.
"You don't understand ..." Merrick began.
"Please, don't worry."
Leonie opened her mouth, evidently to add her opinion, but Kimmychose that moment to slap her hands in merriment. Unfortunately,one ended up in the bowl and both Alissa and Kimmy were coveredwith a gooey mess.
"Oh, dear." Leonie bustled over and took the bundleof energy from Alissa's arms. "Don't you worry about her.Just clean yourself up for your trip and let me handle this one."
Wiping up the baby with expert hands, Leonie started back overto Merrick. "Give me a kiss now, then you and Jaryl get towork. The sun's already up and the workers won't wait."
Merrick huffed a bit before kissing his wife goodbye. By then,Jeanetta had joined the group and they were ready to go. Sayingtheir goodbyes, they followed Merrick out. Within minutes, theyhad the wagon hitched and were rolling down the road.
Feeling the morning sun beating down on her head, Alissa grimaced.They were in for another scorching day if it didn't rain.
Her gaze traveled over the rich green land, pausing on the largetrees that were older than the town. She smiled. This was a beautifulplace to live. One day she would have her own house and children,hopefully like the one squirming in her lap at the moment, fullof energy and life. And they wouldn't have to grow up in fearof the pens like so many did in Sime Territory. She would livefar enough from the border that they wouldn't have to worry aboutraids or be exposed to the violence of the kill, but close enoughthat, should one of her own children change over, she could helpit get safely across. No, they could exist in peace. The perfectplace to reside. A small, quiet voice touched at her conscience,reminding her of rumors she'd heard as a child about out-Territory,bringing back Merrick's attempted warnings, but she pushed itaside. She would start a life here. It was her dream.
Jeanetta pulled back on the reins as they entered L'hase. Nopennant flying here, Alissa told herself in satisfaction,glancing around the town. The place was unlike what she had expected.It was still hard for her to see so many bare armed people walkingaround freely. She saw an occasional mother pulling a child alongbehind her, a few people on horseback, heard the raucous laughterand music floating out of a bar down the street. It was like adream come true.
Alissa waited until Jeanetta braked in front of the mercantileand jumped down before handing Kimmy to her. She started to climboff the wagon and was startled when a male hand was thrust infront of her. "Allow me."
Alissa raised eyebrows at the offer of assistance and found herselfstaring into the intense eyes of a smiling, young man. Indecisively,she glanced to Jeanetta who was waiting for her at the entranceto the store, busy with Kimmy. Seeing no help there, she shrugged.What could it hurt?
She quickly inventoried him for future reference as he helpedher down. Black, wavy hair that brushed his collar, wide shoulders,huge in fact, and he was taller than she. She barely managed tokeep from showing her astonishment as she stared at this man.With his face cast in a shadow as he looked down on her from hissuperior height she had a fleeting image of Tannon. Had she passedhim on a moonlit night in the shadows she would had sworn she'dseen a ghost. Thank goodness she wouldn't be seeing him in thedark. That would bring back too many painful memories.
When her feet touched the ground, she smiled up at him intendingto thank him, but caught his gaze. His deep brown eyes were surroundedby the longest lashes she'd ever seen on a man. What she'd earlierthought of as an intense look, she now revised to burning witha fervor that she couldn't name. "Th-thank you ..."
She waited. A huge smile spread across his face. "Donick.Donick Reston. And you are ..."
"She's living with us."
Alissa started guiltily at Jeanetta's voice and pulled out ofthe man's grasp.
"Is she, Jeanetta? Just visiting or will she be staying?"
Alissa, surprised at his cool tone, didn't have time to ponderit, for he turned back to her. "Shopping?"
"I happen to work here. May I have the honor of showing youaround?"
Alissa couldn't help but blush. No one had ever treated her asthis man was doing. "I don't see why not," she returned,smiling shyly. "If Jeanetta doesn't mind."
Alissa saw Jeanetta's features tighten, but the other girl noddedand said, "I've got to go across the street. Are you sureyou don't want to come with me first?"
Alissa puzzled over her attitude. "No. You go ahead. LeaveKimmy with me if you want."
The sound of footsteps echoing on the wooden planks, and the voicesof women and men as they went about their shopping faded whenthe large man possessively latched onto Alissa's elbow. She flushed,took the proffered child then allowed Donick his way.
"A crush, I'm afraid," Donick said, leading her intothe store.
"jeanetta has had a crush on me for over a year now. That'swhy she reacted the way she did."
Alissa didn't think the look she'd seen on Jeanetta's face wasjealousy, but she wouldn't debate that now. "So, how longhave you lived at L'hase, Mr. Reston?"
"Donick, please. Five years. My father is in charge of thelocal church, which is why we moved here. This poor communityis situated so close to the border that my father thought it vitalto the well-being of the people's souls that we start a churchhere."
"A church? I didn't realize there was one here." RememberingMerrick's earlier attempts to tell her, she flushed slightly."I mean, we haven't had a chance to attend since we've beenso busy at the farm."
"Merrick isn't faithful in attending our meetings. I've sometimeswondered if he even follows our teachings. You don't have to apologize."
Alissa cleared her throat nervously, wondering now exactly whatMerrick had planned to tell her. Maybe he hadn't been trying toruin her paradise, but simply tell her he didn't practice thelocal faith. She shifted Kimmy to her other hip and walked downthe aisle, taking in the small store in her perusal. General merchandisecovered one complete wall along with canned vegetables. Lookingthrough the clear glass, she could see someone had put up quitea variety of fruits and vegetables in the jars. There were alsosacks of foodstuffs, material for making clothes, tools for workingthe farm, and washtubs which were strategically placed on theother walls and aisles. On the long counter with the cash registerperched on top were sweets, small trinkets and an opened registerbook.
In one corner two men in old, rickety chairs, facing each other,were playing some sort of game. Alissa couldn't see it clearlyfor one man was hunched over the board while the other cackledin glee. "Nice place," she said, trying to make conversation.
"Don't mind them. They've nothing better to do."
"Oh, I don't." And had she known what the next questionwould lead to she never would have asked it, but being innocent,she questioned naively, "What type of church does your fatherpreside over?"
"Church of the Purity."
"I've never attended that type of church." At his strangelook, she hastened to add, "Since coming to this community.As I said earlier ... I mean, well, I guess with us living sofar out and all ..." Alissa realized by babbling she wasonly making her lie worse. Thank goodness he wasn't Sime. Sheclamped her mouth shut and smiled up sweetly.
"It's the only church that preaches the true message,"Donick said, wary of the sudden smile or her lame excuse, shewasn't sure which. She stood still under his probing gaze untilhis grin returned. "You ought to come. At our next meetingmy father is going to be instructing us on preventing changeover."
"What?" Alissa gaped, shocked. A ridiculous idea. She'dnever heard of such a thing.
She received another strange look, but he continued. "It'sour duty to rid the territory of those demonic savages. They arebent on destroying the true people of God and the only way togain control of the disaster we're in is to prevent changeover.We forestall that and we stop the slaughter of our race. But enoughof that. If you'd like, I'll drop by and ask Merrick's permissionto take you to our next meeting."
"I'm not sure they'd let me go." Or if I want togo, she added silently.
She was thankful when he dropped the subject and began to expoundon the town and its inhabitants. By the time Jeanetta returned,Alissa had lost her uneasy feelings about the man and was laughingwith him. They quickly finished their shopping and started out,only to be halted by Donick again. "I'd like to call on youtomorrow. Would it be possible for you to attend a picnic withme? Out near the old swing by the pond," he added hastily,seeing her hesitation.
Finally, she nodded. "Well ... I guess so."
"Good." He put the supplies in the back of the wagonand helped her up. "Tomorrow at midday?"
Jeanetta hopped onto the buckboard and they started down the street."Didn't Mama tell you about him?" she hissed.
Alissa settled the baby in her arms then raised surprised eyesto the other girl. "No. Is he someone special?"
Jeanetta laughed. "I'd say. I don't think Mama would wantyou getting involved with him. He's from the Church of the Purityand they're radicals."
Alissa raised an eyebrow. Or was it that Jeanetta was attractedto him? "I didn't find him very radical. Besides, itwas interesting talking to him."
"You're saying he didn't talk about his daddy's church?"
"Well, yes. A little."
"And you like him. That was plain to see. Why?"
"You're very inquisitive," Alissa snapped, her confusionmaking her defensive.
Alissa didn't mean to hurt Jeanetta's feelings. But she couldtell she had when the girl didn't say another word the rest ofthe ride home. What could Alissa say to her? That it was niceto be treated so special? That he was the first friend she'd madein town? That he was fun and made her laugh, something she'd sorelylacked in her past? Or that his coloring reminded her of anotherfriend who had saved her from the pens, taken her to a Householdingand given her a chance in his world? Would Jeanetta understandany of those explanations? She didn't say anything, listeninginstead to the groaning of the old, wooden wagon as they ploddedalong the road, occasionally murmuring a yes or that'sa good girl as Kimmy practiced her limited vocabulary.
She was glad when the farm finally came into sight. If anyonecould answer her questions, it was Leonie. When they arrived,Jeanetta took the baby to put her down for a nap while Alissawent into the kitchen in search of Leonie.
"Hi, dear. Did you meet many people? I see you've broughtthe supplies. How sweet. I suppose Jeanetta is upstairs with Kimmy?"The older woman set fresh bread on the table and turned for aplate of cookies. Pouring some milk from a pitcher, she placedit in front of Alissa.
Alissa had become accustomed to her treatment as one of Leonie'skids, so she didn't remind her that she was grown now. Instead,she enjoyed the delicious fare that had set her mouth to wateringthe minute she'd walked through the door.
"jeanetta is a little upset with me," Alissa finallysaid, after taking a long swallow of milk and blotting at hermouth. "I'm afraid you may not see her for awhile. It seemsI met a young man she has a crush on and he asked me to go ona picnic tomorrow. Oh, Leonie, he was so kind. He said he knewyou and Merrick and we talked about the town and what it was likeliving in such a small farming community ..."
"What's his name, dear."
"Donick. He works at the local mercantile."
Alissa's brow furrowed when Leonie suddenly stood and bustledover to the wood-burning stove. "You say you've got a datewith this young man?"
Alissa waited, not sure how to react to Leonie's silence. Somethingwas obviously wrong if Leonie could go this long without sayinganything. "Is there a problem?" Alissa eventually asked.
Leonie stopped stirring the pot of soup and turned back to her."Not exactly, dear. It's just, well, his father is the preacherof the local church and with your background I don't think itwise to get involved with him."
"Why? What's the matter with him? He was the perfect gentlemen.We talked about his church, some about my background. I don'tsee where the difficulty will come in."
"Well, dear, it's just that ..." She shrugged. "Whateveryou decide as long as you're careful. After all, you're only aguest here. It's not as if you're one of my blood kin now, isit? You can see whoever you want. Just try not to become too closeto him and please, whatever you do, when you're around him, keepyour opinions to yourself."
Alissa didn't know why, but what Leonie said hurt. She had becomevery close to the family in the last two months and valued theiropinions. But Leonie was right. She wasn't part of the family.Perhaps this was her way to tell Alissa now that she was gettingout into the community, Leonie expected her to get a job and finda place of her own. "He's bringing a picnic tomorrow. I hopeyou don't mind."
"Just be careful, dear. And remember, we're here if you needus."
Need. What a funny word for her to use. Did Leonie haveany idea what that meant in Simelan? Would she have phrased itquite that way had she known?
After a few more minutes of idle chat, Alissa went to her room.She hadn't slept much last night and she was ready for a nap.She'd worry about Leonie's cautioning words tomorrow.
* * *
The next day was perfect weather for a picnic, bright and sunnywith just enough breeze to take the stifling edge off the heat.Alissa was eager to go when Donick finally showed up. They wastedno time in getting to the quiet little spot that Donick had suggested.
As Alissa spread the tablecloth, she thought the gently slopedhill by the pond one of the best places yet to retreat for a lazyafternoon. And if she could convince Donick, she'd get him topush her in the wooden swing attached to the massive tree theywere now sitting under.
She listened to a small flock of ducks as they splashed and playedin the water, heard the birds overhead singing merrily, expressingtheir joy at the beautiful day. She paused in spreading the tableclothto pick a violet colored flower, refusing to crush its fragilesplendor beneath their blanket. She brought it to her nose, inhalingthe fresh, wild, outdoor scent it offered.
"Have you approached Merrick about attending the church meetingswith me?"
Alissa glanced up, surprised by his remark. "I didn't givemuch thought to it, Donick. After all, you said you'd talk tohim, so I just ..."
"But don't you see how much easier it'd be for you to doit?" Donick sat beside her and Alissa decided he was waitingon her to fill his plate. She pulled the food out of the hamperand did, slightly irritated that he expected her to serve him.Smiling politely, she handed him his dish while he continued totalk. "It's imperative you attend those meetings. You'retoo special a person to risk. If you're not there, you won't hearthe messages from God that teach us how to endure in our dailylife against the threats that are out there."
He paused, his eyes widening before he began to furiously slapat his leg and Alissa couldn't help but giggle at the ridiculouspicture he made, with his leg in the air, balancing food in onehand, while with the other he swatted at some small insects thathad wandered up under his pant leg. His words slowly dawned onher. "Threats?" she questioned, laughingly. "Don'tyou think you're being a little dramatic, Donick?" She enjoyedspending time with this man, the first friend she'd made. He hada charismatic aura about him, drawing people with his voice, hislooks, even his gestures, which were so graceful and poetic. Heseemed to understand her, but she didn't like the pressure heattempted to exert.
"Dramatic? I thought you understood, Alissa. It's a constantbattle, one that we must strive to win ..."
He continued to lecture, but Alissa paid little attention. Shewas remembering a similar speech her brother had once given her.It's a battle, little sister. With each day that goes by, theHouseholdings are getting stronger. I intend to go there whenI grow up. The Sectuib was right about it being the way of thefuture. If we don't learn to cooperate then life as we know itmight not exist for our children.
Being a child herself, Alissa had not really understood what herbrother had meant. And she'd never gotten the chance to ask. Herbrother had intimated that he was going to Keon and she wouldjoin him when she established or changed over. But that night,her father had come home drunk, blaming Keon for murdering herbrother. He said he'd found her brother's body beside the roadwhere they'd dumped it. He then blamed her mother, saying hadshe not planted false hopes about the Simes and Gens living inpeace, his son would still be alive. When Alissa heard that, she'dbeen devastated, not trusting anyone, Householdings included.She had been so confused, not understanding anything except thepain of losing the closest person in her life. Had the Householdinglied? Had they told her brother some fanciful tale? Tannon haddone his best to convince her otherwise, attempting to explainthe Householding dream. She hadn't been ready to hear it. Now,though, she was finally beginning to realize what he meant. Hertime on this side of the border continued to reveal so many facetsof life that she'd had no idea even existed. And she didn't likethat. Tannon and Donick both sharing dreams, but both so different.
Sometimes, listening to Donick was like listening to a Gen dealer.That's why she tuned him out. Both sides had fears. It frightenedAlissa to think about this because she was afraid she was goingto discover more disillusions about the paradise where she'd plannedto build her home.
"Alissa, are you listening?"
"Of course I am, Donick." If she agreed, maybe he'drun himself out and drop the subject, then they could get on withmore interesting things. He was her friend and she enjoyed theattention he paid her, but she didn't want to spend all of theirtime discussing his father's church.
"Good. Because, I've never quite met anyone like you andI think you could become very special to me."
Oh, shen! Now I wish I'd been listening.
They finished their lunch and then Donick stretched out with hishead in her lap and told her his dreams for the future. "Ahouse, children, most definitely. When my father leaves to startanother church though, I think I'd like to stay here, continueon in his footsteps, so to speak. It takes a special person todo that and a special woman to help. Yeah, and I think I may havefound her in you, Alissa."
Alissa, who had been idly stroking his hair, was astonished. "Me?But you don't approve of the way I live."
"People can change."
But did he mean her or him? she wondered. Suddenly unsureof where the conversation was going, she jumped up, pulling Donickwith her, then ran to the swing. "Push me. It's been yearssince I've been on one ..."
At his admonishing look, her voice trailed off. "And yearsit should be, Alissa. You're much too old to play childish games.Did your mother never teach you the responsibilities of a woman?"
At her blank look, he sighed. "Don't worry. I'm a very patientman and am willing to take my time with you."
Alissa didn't like the sound of that, either. She said nothing,but gathered up the basket as he indicated. Different people,different customs. She felt unexpectedly awkward in front of him.She had found her paradise but felt like a trin blossom in themidst of a strawberry patch. She was going to have to change,or answer some very disturbing questions that she didn't wantto face. It would be easier to conform than to accept that.
Alissa smiled, tentatively. "Thank you, Donick. And I hopeI'm a quick learner." After all, if he would teach her aboutGen Territory, she should be willing to learn. But that didn'thelp the sudden ache that developed in her heart.
"Yes, Alissa, you're very special. Don't forget that."He leaned down and placed a quick kiss on her lips, somethingthat was definitely unlike the persuasive one she remembered receivingfrom Tannon shortly after their transfer.
Over the next few weeks Donick continued to visit regularly. AlthoughLeonie and Merrick had at first objected, they now accepted it,resignedly. Alissa was still not sure where her feelings lay.She wanted her dream to come true, but the closer she got to Donick,the more unsure she became. She was afraid to define the restlessness,instead insisting it grew from yearning for a closer relationshipwith Donick, one that he held just out of reach. She worked harder,attempting to mold herself into the perfect citizen of the community,knowing that her acceptance would fulfill the ever-growing chasmin her heart. Her success would prove her dream come true.
On this particular morning, she was in a very pensive mood. Nightmaresof the Householdings and Sime Territory still haunted her nights.She had decided to discuss them with Donick. He was serious inhis pursuit of her and she felt it better to keep no secrets betweenthem. Perhaps that's why the mental images of Carre wouldn't goaway. She reasoned if she confessed them to Donick, they'd leaveher mind.
She dragged herself down the stairs and out the back door on hertrek to the barn, intending to milk the cow and then feed thechickens. Donick was due at mid-morning and he had mentioned hehad something "serious" he wanted to speak with herabout. She was afraid she knew what it was.
Alissa pulled open the large red door and stepped into the diminterior. Had her mind not been on her own worries, she wouldhave noticed someone's presence sooner. As it was, she had justseated herself on a low stool when the hairs of her neck stoodon end. She stiffened, heard a sharp intake of breath and immediatelyrelaxed.
"Hello," she called over her shoulder, somehow justknowing from the reactions that the person in here with her hadto be a Sime. A Gen certainly wouldn't react to her nager as thisperson just had. She was very careful as she swivelled aroundto face the Sime. There, in the corner of the next stall, wasa young man, badly beaten, shivering in the hay. "Who areyou?"
The trembling boy leaned toward her slightly before pulling backfurther into the shadows. "Stay away."
His voice shook, whether in fear or anger she couldn't tell. Veryslowly she stood and took careful steps until she was in frontof the stall. "Please let me help." Her voice stoppedwhen she saw his bruised arms. He was in need. As he warily stood,his posture tense and waiting, Alissa allowed her eyes to driftdownward, taking in his appearance. What she saw made her wantto retch. Though she could see no bone protruding through theskin of the bleeding leg, she knew from the way he stood thatit was indeed severely injured. Looking closer, she saw a holehad been ripped through his pants into his leg. No, two holes,she thought revulsion suddenly filling her as she comprehendedthat what she was seeing was the result of a pitchfork.
He laughed bitterly and she realized he'd sensed her reaction.Regaining her composure, she asked, "Why are you hiding?I'm not going to hurt you."
He threw her a look of contempt. "Yeah, sure." But shedidn't miss the way his tentacles quivered. In a serious voice,she stated, "Zlin me?" At his confused expression, shetried again. "Look at my emotions. Do you see any fear? Anyintent that would lead you to believe I have harm in mind?"
She waited patiently as he stared, watching his face as it registeredfirst disbelief then a wary trust.
"I'll ask again. Why are you hiding?"
The young man pulled at his shirt to straighten it, darting anervous glance to the entrance of the barn. "They're lookingfor me. Those people, the church, I--" he faltered. "Ikilled my sister. God forgive me, I didn't mean to. I--these things.I--I was sick and then ... My God, I turned into a monster Shewas standing there, but it wasn't her. It was this beautiful glowingaura and I had to have it. I was shaking with it. I grabbed itand there was such a wonderful feeling, a rush. But when I openedmy eyes, it was my older sister lying dead in my arms." Theboy began to sob uncontrollably. "But I wanted more."His shoulders shook with his emotions. "And then these peoplecame. I could tell they were angry and afraid. I wanted to die,so I didn't stop them, until they hurt me. The pain shook me.I was afraid I'd do something horrible to them. Those feelingswere coming over me again."
He held out a hand in pleading and Alissa's heart broke. A youngSime terrified of his feelings and not sure what was happeningto him, knowing only that there was a hunger inside him that couldn'tbe quenched without his sister's selyn. The horror of knowinghe'd killed someone he loved must have been overwhelming. Buthe wasn't done with his story. Regaining his composure, he continued,"I refused to hurt them, so I ran. They would never be ableto forgive my mom for the monster she'd borne if I had harmedanyone else. And now, if they find me, they're going to kill me."
Alissa frowned momentarily at his words. "Kill? Who? You'rea Sime ... I don't understand."
"The mob. I lost them. I'm trying to get to the border beforethey catch me." He motioned to his leg and his bruised andbattered arm that he had evidently thrown up to ward off blows."If I don't, I'll die."
She'd be surprised if he could take transfer anytime soon, lookingat his bruised arm. Then light dawned in her mind and she shookher head at the differences in the Genlan language. "Youmean murder?"
"Yeah. That's what I said." He gave her an exasperatedlook. "Where did you learn to talk?" Alissa stiffened,insulted. It wasn't her fault she couldn't understand the languageone hundred percent. Seeing him tense, she made herself relax.He may have killed his sister, but it hadn't satisfied his need.He was either a channel or he was injured worse than she couldsee in the dim interior and he was voiding selyn.
Without wondering why, she answered truthfully. "I'm fromLemeth." Her chest ached with suppressed emotion. "Butwhy would the Church want to hurt you? I don't ..."
"Lemeth? In Sime Territory? You could help me. Could youtell me where to go? Someone to contact?"
Alissa's mind was spinning in confusion. A Sime running for hislife in Gen Territory. Possibly. But the Church--murder him? Donickwould laugh if he could hear the accusations, wouldn't he? Thequestion that kept nagging at her conscience didn't get asked,the one about who had given him his present injuries, who hadgone after the boy with a picthfork. She didn't want to thinkabout it.
"Calm down. You're injured. Let me take you to the border.I've helped other Simes before by providing transfer and sinceyou're hurt ..."
He suddenly lurched up and stumbled past her. "They've foundme. They're outside. I've got to go."
Alissa saw the blood on her shirt and pants where he'd bumpedher as he'd brushed against her, heard voices in the distance,and was afraid for him. "No. Wait. At least let me try tohelp ..." she called out, starting after him, not even certainwhat she would do if she caught up.
"There he is!" A shout from some people just comingup the drive drew her attention and she turned to see the localtownspeople, Donick in the lead, heading straight for the injuredSime. She saw the boy trip and fall, only to stagger back to hisfeet and attempt to run again. Before he could flee, they surroundedhim. He looked like a trapped animal. His eyes were flickeringwildly from them to the buildings, desperately looking for a wayout. She started forward, only to be stopped by Donick's voice."Don't touch it. It'll hurt you. Let God's judgment be carriedout."
Only feet away Alissa froze and the people surged forward as one,their intent written on their faces. Her mouth opened to scream,but no sound came out as she watched, in horror, while the menand women beat the fighting Sime. No! This has to be a nightmare!her mind screamed. The sound of the wooden clubs and farming toolsthudding against the Sime's body rang in her ears. Tortured screamsechoed with the shouts of the attackers. Finding sudden strength,she ran forward, intending to help. She pushed and shoved, attemptingto wedge her way through the violent crowd, eventually succeeding,only to stop, too late. He'd never had a chance against so manypeople.
In that last second before his death, her eyes locked with thebattered Sime's and it wasn't him, but her brother she saw lyingthere. The sound of his skull cracking brought her back to awareness.The screams of the Sime ended abruptly. She gazed down in dismayat the crumpled form. If only she hadn't kept him there so long,talking ... His injury had drained too much selyn, there wasno way he could have escaped, her brain argued. I couldhave helped, somehow. I could have helped, her heart replied.
One by one the men and women drifted away. She stared at the bloodycorpse, unrecognizable as the person she had spoken with onlymoments before. She didn't move when some townspeople gatheredup the body, didn't know how long she stood there before she felta touch on her arm.
Slowly, as if from a great distance, she heard Donick's voice."It didn't injure you, did it? It escaped us the first time.We probably wouldn't have caught it if you hadn't slowed it down."
Alissa felt a stinging sensation in her arms and looked down tofind her hands crossed across her chest, her nails biting intothe fleshy part of her forearms . She probably would have bruisestomorrow, she thought, attempting to relax and put what had justhappened out of her mind.
Donick smiled, oblivious to the sprinkling of blood on his face."You're a little pale. Perhaps you ought to go eat breakfast.I have special plans I'd like to start making with you today."
Alissa couldn't respond, didn't want to understand his meaning.All she could see was the look of bloodlust that had been on hisface and now the results that covered both her and Donick. Althoughshe was in shock from the violence, the world seemed to ignoreit. A few people lingered in a group talking about a coming storm,"if the sky was any indication". The cow was makingdesperate sounds, angry that Alissa had left before she had milkedit. A rooster crowed, reminding them it was time to work. AndDonick, he was discussing plans as if the life of an innocentyouth had not just been ended like the flame of a campfire whendoused with dirt. So alive and vibrant, then nothing.
"Let me go home and wash. Then we'll talk about it."
Shock still ruling her, she backed away, replying painfully slow,with an unconsciously thick, Simelan accent, "I'm sorry.I-I'm not sure I'll be able to have lunch. I have to help aroundhere."
Donick raised an eyebrow. At her accent? Her lame excuse? "Justwhat part of the Territory did you say you came from?"
When she didn't answer, he continued, "I don't understandwhat's the matter with you. It was nothing more than an animal,a demon whom God sent us to purge from the town. Surely you'renot upset about that?"
Alissa lowered her eyes, truly seeing him for the first time.She put a little more distance between them before she whispered,"I'm sorry."
She turned to the house and saw the entire family who had warnedher about this monster standing there. Unable to face them, unsurewhat to do, she started back to the barn. Leonie hurried forwardand stopped her at the door. "You don't look well. Perhapsyou ought to lie down for awhile and then maybe later ... after... after ..."
She didn't finish and Alissa didn't wait, she just wanted to bealone. Her teeth were already beginning to chatter in delayedreaction to her shock. Turning, she started toward the house,not pausing when she reached the steps. Entering through the screendoor she tore up the stairs making it to her room just in timeto be sick. After Alissa finished, she climbed shakily into bed.
"Please help me before they find me ... Could you tellme somewhere to go ..."
"It was nothing more than an animal. Surely you're notupset ..."
"Nothing more than an animal. Simes once considered me nothingmore than an animal. I once considered them--us--nothing morethan animals," she whispered miserably. She pushed her hairback and shuddered when she remembered the tortured look in thoseblue eyes as they gazed up at her before the fatal blow that closedthem forever. "All he wanted was help."
Her mind flashed back to a similar scene. She was in a Shrineof the Starred Cross begging a Sime to help her. Tannon hadn'tfailed her as she had failed that boy. "I promise you,"she whispered to the vision of the dead boy, "I promise thatsomehow I'll make up for what they did."
The day's tragedy continued to replay in her mind. Past and presentcontinued to struggle within. Right and wrong.
That Sime could have been her brother. She remembered back towhen she was a child. Her family had lived near Keon. Her motherhad taken her and her brother to hear the Sectuib occasionally,until her father had found out and forbidden them to go. The terriblefight her parents had that night, had scared her. Were these peoplein the Householdings so different? Perverts, as they were calledby her father?
Then her brother had gone through changeover. She had not witnessedit, but had been so happy for him.
She'd noticed a faraway look that came over his face during thenext month and worried, knowing somehow that something was aboutto change. Sure enough, her brother had come to her room one eveningto tell her goodbye. He said he'd decided to go to Keon, and explainedhe wanted to do what he could to stop the kill. He knew therewas a better way and promised to visit, even to bring her to Keonwhen she was older, if she wanted. They could work there together,no matter what happened, whether she was a Gen or Sime.
She'd gone to bed, saddened over the loss of her brother, butheartened that she would still be able to see him. Later, she'dbeen awakened by raised voices. Sleepily, she had staggered tothe stairs and would never forget the hate and fear born on thatrainy, winter night.
Her father, drunk as usual, was downstairs shouting that the Householdershad murdered her brother, and was blaming Mama for deceiving thechildren into believing that the perverts were anything closeto normal. She'd heard and seen so much. But the pain had onlybegun. Her father left them that night. She and her mother movedwithin the month to Lemeth, where her mama became the local Penkeeper. And from that time on, Alissa had hated all Householders,because they had murdered her brother. He had wanted to go livesomewhere safe, just like the young boy had wanted to do. Sheremembered the words she'd sobbed out over her brother's grave.You were wrong. There isn't a better way. No one can make adifference.
Well, it was she who had been wrong. Tannon opened hereyes when he had protected her, showing her that it could work.He had even tried to convince her that, most likely, angry Simeshad murdered her brother--not Keon's people.
Then today, seeing that young Sime murdered--Had it been likethat for her brother?
Alissa pulled the covers up close about her. A new resolve beganto grow within her. She would do something. It was wrong for peopleto go through what her brother and the young Sime had.
* * *
Alissa woke to a light tap on her door. "Come in," shecalled sleepily, struggling to a sitting position.
She grimaced at the militant look on Leonie's face. She was goingto get a lecture, she could see it coming. "Is there somethingyou wanted?"
"That young man is downstairs insisting on seeing you, Alissa.And I'd have thought that, after today, you'd have learned hewas no good for you, with your background and all."
Leonie shuffled over to the curtains and pushed them open, allowingthe bright afternoon light to flow into the room, chasing awayany of Alissa's lingering drowsiness.
"I didn't want to let him in, but he said you were expectinghim. Said he had something real important to discuss with you.You aren't thinking of marrying him, are you? Because if you are,I'm going to tell you I think you're making a big mistake. I ..."
"Leonie!" Alissa hadn't meant to sound so sharp, butthe woman could chatter on forever. "No, Leonie, I'm notgoing to marry him. I'll go down now and talk to him. He won'tbe back when I'm done."
"He can be very persistent."
"I doubt he'll want to come back after he hears everythingI've got to say," Alissa replied wryly.
Leonie's eyes narrowed. "Just what are you going to say tohim, dear? Don't do anything drastic now, you hear? I don't wantus put in any danger out here."
"Don't worry, Leonie." Alissa gave the woman a quickhug and started out the door. "I care for you too much toendanger you."
Donick sat on the couch, as arrogant as ever, looking like hehad every right to be there. Alissa held her tongue. He knew Leoniedidn't like him. The least he could have done was wait outside.
As she reached the foot of the stairs, Donick glanced up. "Mydear. I'm glad to see you're feeling better. I'm back just likeI said I'd be. I hope you're ready for that little talk I promisedyou."
Alissa wanted to laugh. The condescending imbecile. How dare hetalk down to her as if she were a child craving instruction? Andto think, she had once compared him to Tannon. They were worldsapart, both in beliefs and looks. Whereas Tannon had shown feelings,this man, even when he was smiling, had a coldness in his eyesthat showed his true character. His actions spoke for themselves.The contempt he felt for everyone that didn't believe as he didwas obvious in the way he spoke.
She shook her head. She should be calling herself the imbecile.She pasted a smile on her face and replied, "Would you liketo go outside?"
Obviously he didn't like it at all, but he did go. Once there,Alissa didn't wait for him but followed the railing around theside of the porch until she came to the old wooden swing. Sheplopped down on it, crossed her arms across her chest, then raisedher eyes to his, waiting. She was glad to see that unnerved himslightly.
Donick sat beside her, the swing groaning under his weight. Shedid her best not to squirm with revulsion when he reached outand removed one hand from its stubborn position. "You mustknow why I've come. I've hinted at it enough. I think with theproper training that, in time, you would make an excellent wife..."
"But just consider your position in the community if youmarried me."
"I don't care. I've come to realize some things in the pastcouple of days and one of them is that I could never agree withyour beliefs. Another is that I'm not nearly as fond of you asI thought. I guess because you were the first person I met andyou treated me as if I belonged ..."
"But you will, as soon as you marry me. No one will darequestion your place then."
Alissa jerked her hand back, distaste evident on her face. Shestood. "At that price? I'd rather be an outcast."
He got up, facing her, his countenance flushing in anger. "Icould ruin you if I wanted to. Don't you understand I'm the powerin this town?"
Alissa was so mad at his arrogance she couldn't help but retortshortly, "Power? A stock clerk in a mercantile? The onlypower you have is found behind the end of a broom."
She didn't even see it coming but felt her face explode in agonywhere he hit her. Her hip caught the railing, spinning her aroundwhere she fell, tumbling to the wooden planks of the porch. Dirtand grit scraped her hands and face as she lay there. Shuven,but that hurt! Picking herself slowly up off the ground, sheeyed him warily.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I ..." he beganin a rush.
"Let me tell you something about myself, Donick," sheinterrupted, ignoring his attempt at an apology. "I neverhave spoken much about my life. Like, for instance, did I evertell you that both of my parents were Simes?"
At his look of horror, she tried to smile, but ended up grimacinginstead. Her whole jaw would be purple come morning. She absentlywiped the blood from her split lip, before continuing. "Simesin Sime Territory. In fact, I not only lived with Sime parents,but, for a time, resided in those perverted places where the Gensgive their selyn to the Simes."
He was downright pale and she couldn't help her grin, althoughit made her lip hurt like the devil. "Real good people there.Very interesting ways."
"My God, you're a Sime-lover!"
"I guess you might say that. Although Leonie doesn't know,"she added, realizing suddenly that she might have endangered thefamily. "I only told them I was a Gen, running. I was surethis town had seen fleeing Gens before and I was hoping to getsomeone to put me up. They're real nice people, but I'm afraidthey wouldn't accept me if they knew my true beliefs." There.Let him choke on that.
"It doesn't matter." He swallowed, convulsively, tryingnot to retch, she thought with satisfaction. "You ... youcan change. God can help you, if you'll only repent your sins.I'll guide you."
"But that's just it, Donick. I don't want to change. Andunfortunately, I can't go back, or I would."
"You don't mean that. You can't actually believe what you'resaying." He suddenly smiled, his patronizing little upliftingof lips that set her blood to boiling.
He still thinks he can change me! The stupid fool.
"I'll give you time to think about my proposal. I'll be backtomorrow for an answer."
Standing suddenly erect, he narrowed his eyes at her. "Rememberthat I can ruin you. And since you live with Merrick, the destructionwould engulf his family too."
Alissa watched, in shock, as he walked off, his feet kicking updust in his path, scattering the noisy chickens as he mountedhis horse and, with a jerk, turned it and headed awkwardly downthe lane. What had she ever seen in him?
He was crazy. He really thought she'd submit to him. Now whatwas she going to do? She certainly couldn't stay here and riskendangering the Stalleighs. She had to tell Leonie what had justhappened, set up a plan, make it look as if she were being forcedto leave.
Alissa heard the screen door swing open and headed toward it.She was sure Leonie would want to know everything that had happened.
"Well? Oh, my goodness, what did he do to your face? He struckyou, didn't he? Come on in and let me put something on that. Ihope you told him not to come back. Well? Tell me, what did hesay?"
Alissa allowed herself to be docilely led to the kitchen whereLeonie clucked about her while she related the whole story. Whenshe was done, Leonie looked at her shrewdly, before asking, "Whatare you planning? I can see it in your eyes, young lady."
Alissa wasn't sure if now was a good time to mention ideas thathad taken root earlier in the day. She knew if she didn't tellher something, the matronly lady would keep probing until Alissabroke. So, with a sigh, she began, "I had wanted to try tochange the town's opinion of Simes."
She ignored Leonie's gasp and continued. "I had thought ifI met other people, possibly some with younger children, maybesome who had lost a child to changeover, I could have shared myexperiences from Sime Territory, and we could have slowly ridthem of their fear. Maybe one day we could have eventually hada place where people could bring their children whom they fearedwere in changeover. We could have worked with them, helped themescape to Sime Territory. But now, because of Donick, I have toleave." She hesitated. "But it could still work, ifyou help me. What do you think?"
"No. Absolutely not. It's too dangerous. The people in townwould kill you. They treat Sime-lovers just like they do Simes,or didn't you know that?"
"We've got to start somewhere, breaking down the fear thatengulfs our species. You have two children. What will you do ifone of them goes through changeover? Do you want to happen tothem what so brutally happened to the young boy?"
She was thinking. Alissa was glad for that. Her next words, however,were not what she expected. "My family is a good family.That won't happen to us. Besides, there are more Gens than Simesin my and Merrick's families."
"That's Church of the Purity talk. I've learned thatmuch in my short time here. I can't believe you said that."
"Maybe so. But it's the only hope I got."
"But don't you see?" Alissa took Leonie's hand. "That'swhat I mean. There are places across the border where both Simesand Gens live together, and not in fear. There is the hope wecan eventually work together and you won't have to live in fearof death from your own child if he becomes Sime."
"I don't know ..." Leonie began. "What you saysounds right. But if you believe that, then why don't you returnand live in that Householding you talk about so much?"
Alissa pushed her hair back over her shoulder, staring pensivelyat the bare, hardwood floor. "Simes think Gens are animalsand kill them without thought. I would have to live behind a wallthere for protection. Whenever I left, I would have to have aHouseholding Sime with me. Here, I thought I was away from theviolence, thought I'd found my dream." She laughed, shakingher head. "Here, I don't have to live behind a wall, so maybeI can change some minds and one day no one will have to live infear like that."
Alissa went through the swinging door and walked into the livingroom, Leonie on her heels. She sank down wearily on the sofa,suddenly very tired of trying to convince Leonie of her feelings."I just can't see why people wouldn't listen."
"Because they're afraid. I hate to say it, but that's theway the world is. You'll have to accept it. This town is nevergoing to change. And as for where you live--whether behind a wallor not," she paused. "Alissa, wherever you live, evenbehind a wall, it makes no difference. We each have the abilityto erect our own walls within our head and live behind them. Youmust choose what's right for you and not live within the wallssomeone else has built."
At Alissa's surprised look, Leonie patted her hand. "Behinda physical wall or not, it's your choice whether or not to livefree inside yourself. Don't let Donick affect your decision. Weeach must face our own fears and conquer them."
Alissa's brow furrowed. "I don't know ..." she startedbut stopped as Jaryl came tearing down the stairs. She hadn'teven realized someone else was in the house.
"Mama! Jeanetta's sick! I came back for some supplies andfound her in the barn throwing up. I helped her back to her roomand have been sitting with her, but she's not getting better.I ain't never seen her this ill before."
Leonie paled and started up the stairs, Alissa right behind her.Alissa stopped at the door, staring in dismay at the horriblyill girl who lay curled up in a ball on the bed, moaning.
"How long you been feeling poorly, darling?" Leonieasked, brushing the girl's hair from her face.
She opened pain-filled eyes. "I wasn't feeling too good lastnight. I thought it was just a cold." Her eyes turned fearful."Please tell me, Mama. This isn't changeover, is it? I'mnot turning into one of those creatures like they killed todayin the yard?"
Jeanetta began to sob and Alissa's heart sank when Leonie gatheredher fragile daughter in her arms and started rocking her. Whata thing for a child to witness. If this was changeover, Alissawas going to have her hands full reassuring Jeanetta, puttingher fears to rest. She'd never seen a Sime panic during changeover,but knew the emotions would use extra selyn, something a changeovershouldn't do. She quietly walked forward, and slipped down onthe bed beside Leonie. When the girl quieted, Leonie hurried overto the wash basin for a cool cloth, giving Alissa an unobtrusivechance to slide her hands up Jeanetta's arms and probe her forearms,squeezing slightly, confirming her suspicions. Leonie turned andpaled at Alissa's position, the pitcher dropping from nervelessfingers and crashing to the floor.
"Oh, no," Leonie groaned, beginning to sob. "Whatare we going to do? We've got to get her out of here."
Alissa thought quickly. "If we hurry, maybe we can help herto the border before she changes over. It's less than a full day'sride ... I can give her directions to Ariot's house and ..."
"Please," Leonie rushed forward and grabbed Alissa'sarm. "You must go with her. I don't want her out there alone.You have to see her safely there. You've made the trip before.It's the only way."
A speculative gleam entered Alissa's eyes. "You know, I thinkyou're right." Turning to face Leonie, she continued, "Ihave ruined my chances here and put you in danger. But, if wecould stage it to look like Jeanetta killed me," she pausedto reassure Jeanetta that she wouldn't kill her after a whimperescaped her. "If it looked like Jeanetta killed me in changeover,"she continued, "then two problems would be taken care of:you'd not be suspect and the town wouldn't come searching forme after my stupid confession to Donick."
Leonie began to weep in relief. Pulling out a hankie, she wipedat her tears. Finally gaining control, she began, "I seemany things in you, Alissa, that lead me to believe you mightbe right in some of your beliefs. If you promise to see Jeanettato safety and she can get word back to me that your Householdingsare truly like you say, I will strongly consider agreeing to talkto the people of this community, share your words about theseHouseholdings."
Alissa stared, stupefied. Only a short time ago she had been tryingto convince this woman to help her and now Leonie was offeringto tell others?
"You are doing me a great favor, saving my baby's life likethis. Let's say I feel it only right for me to repay it. But onlyif what Jeanetta reports back is promising. I'm not like you.I'm not going to try to storm the town with your beliefs and endup getting us all strung up from the nearest tree. I'll do whatyou want, but my way. I'll selectively tell some peoplethat I know have doubts or remorse over murdering theirchildren about you and your story. I'll explain to them how youhelped my baby and can be trusted, even though you lived withSimes. Slowly, the story will spread. Eventually, someone willwant to know more and perhaps they'll just happen find their wayto the place you call Carre."
Alissa's eyebrows shot up. "Carre?"
"Well, like you said, you can't come back here. They'll killyou for sure."
Alissa sighed. Things were going too fast. She gazed at the restlessgirl lying on the bed, trepidation in her eyes. If they didn'thurry, she was afraid Jeanetta wouldn't make it to the borderat all. She knew the trembling young woman was definitely on herway to becoming a Sime. And quickly, she was afraid.
Turning back to Leonie, she nodded. "Very well. Pack us somesupplies, and I'll get her some clothes. We'll leave in fifteenminutes."
Alissa hastily stuffed some garments into her old carpet bag andthen added some of Jeanetta's things to the collection. Goingover to Jeanetta, she carefully checked the girl over. Seeingthe terrified expression on her face, she slipped into the Companion'srole that Tannon had insisted she had picked up quickly. She onlyhoped he wasn't lying when he'd said she was a natural. The lastthing she wanted to do was hurt this girl. Presenting a calm,encouraging nager, she soothed, "You're so lucky, Jeanetta.I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I established insteadof going through changeover."
Jeanetta's eyes lost their glaze and she calmed down a bit. "You... you never told me that. In fact, in the two months you'vebeen here, you haven't told me much at all."
"I didn't because I wasn't sure how your parents felt aboutme sharing this with you."
"Well, Jeanetta, I do believe you are old enough to makedecisions for yourself. Try not to worry. We have to go and wemust make the best possible time."
She helped the suffering young girl out of bed and down the stairs,even onto the back of the horse. The whole family was waiting,and with tearful farewells they were off.
They rode hard but even with Alissa's concentrated effort to slowJeanetta's selyn consumption, it wasn't enough. Eventually, Jeanettawas simply too indisposed to go any further. They were only anhour from the border, but she had to stop or risk the girl goinginto attrition before breakout.
Jeanetta slid from the horse, not even noticing the overcast skywhich did little to relieve the muggy heat that had plasteredher hair to her head. She staggered to the bushes where she onceagain had dry heaves. Alissa was there immediately, holding hershoulders until the nausea passed.
After seating her under a tree, Alissa pulled her pack off thehorse and quickly put together a makeshift shelter. She efficientlymade up a pallet out of the roll up blankets she'd brought andled Jeanetta to it, just as the first drops of the predicted stormhit.
"My arms," she moaned, tossing off the blanket Alissahad just covered her with. "It hurts. Don't touch me."She protectively laid her arms across her stomach. "We'renot going to make it, are we? Because you helped me, you're goingto die, and then they'll come after me."
Alissa didn't cringe at the loud report of thunder, but insteadpatiently pulled the cover up under her arms, examining them asshe did so. The tentacles looked likely to break out at any moment.Small bubbled places had appeared over the wrist orifices evenas Alissa had erected the tent. Alissa exuded confidence whileshe gently pulled the girl's hair to one side and began to braidit.
"jeanetta, dear, remember our talks throughout the ride?You won't kill me. I'm going to be fine and so are you.I'll serve you and then we'll go on from there. Actually, thisworked out quite well. If we'd traveled too far into Sime Territory,we'd have been spotted by some Sime traveler. Here--What couldpossibly go wrong?"
"O-o-oh!" Jeanetta tensed, letting out a loud groan."My arms, there's something different happening. It's thepain. I don't know ..."
Alissa wrapped her in a bubble of peace and examined the distendedplaces again. "It's just about time. Only a few more minutes.Remember what I said. You can't hurt me. Breathe slowly. Don'tforget to clench your fists and then throw you hands wide openwhen I tell you. I'll be here waiting." Touching her cheekgently, she smiled. "It'll be wonderful. Just keep breathing... yes, that's it now, relax. You're doing so good."
Jeanetta, already zlinning, suddenly stiffened, and Alissa, whohad been so intently studying Jeanetta's condition, was instantlyalert. She started to turn, instinctively sensing danger.
"So. It's true, you filthy Sime-lover. You betrayed me."
Alissa heard the familiar voice through the downpour and triedto protect Jeanetta, hearing the menace in the man's voice. Lunging,she threw herself at Donick. The downward path of the knife wasdiverted, plunging into the ground beside Alissa's charge. Jeanettascreamed, but before she could move, Donick reacted. Furious,he lashed out with his fist, striking Jeanetta, rendering herunconscious. Blood gushed from a jagged rip across her lip.
Seeing Donick grab the dagger again, Alissa was suddenly certainboth she and Jeanetta would die. With a cry, she again launchedherself at the soaking wet Donick, this time sending the daggerflying and knocking him to the ground in the process.
"You idiot!" she spat. "jeanetta's in changeover.Her tentacles are about to break out! How could you have donethat? She would've been on the other side of the border beforeyou knew it. What harm could she have done?"
Donick rolled over on top of her, trapping her beneath his largeframe. "What harm? She was disobedient or she'd not be asshe is now. It's our duty to destroy her. But she wasn't the reasonI'm here. You are. I was looking for the woman who ran off insteadof staying and submitting to me in obedience to God's will. Youcould have had it all," he raged.
"But no. You had to run. You just wouldn't understand. AndI see why now. But you know what that makes you? An obstacle.Especially were my father's congregation ever to find out howyou tricked me into believing you could be one of us. Itlooks like I've got two problems."
He glanced at the unconscious girl lying so still and pale andan unholy gleam entered his eyes. "Maybe not. I don't thinkthat filthy sinner--," he jerked his head toward the still,young woman. "will give me any more problems."
Alissa saw Jeanetta's bleeding had lessened, thought she evensaw her left arm twitch slightly, but refrained from sighing inrelief, instead keeping her mouth closed, hoping Donick didn'texamine Jeanetta any closer. He would surely murder her immediatelyif he did.
Alissa wiggled but was unable to budge the massive bulk of thefanatic who had her trapped on the muddy ground. She could feelrivulets of water continually running under her where the rainfrom outside had made its way into their small tent. Looking intoDonick's unnaturally bright eyes, she shivered, going completelystill. He was quite mad, she decided in that instant. "Why-whydid you come after me? I mean, we already discussed what you wantedand I turned you down."
"I told you I'd be back. I returned unexpectedly to see you.I wanted to explain some more and thought it better to go aheadand stop by instead of waiting until morning. I bet you didn'texpect that," he sneered, his voice turning sarcastic. Alissashuddered as his breathing increased into short choppy breaths,fanning the side of her face. "But you'd left. I knew youwere trying to escape back to your perverts and I couldn't letthat happen. The people in town would never forget it if I did.They'd know that a Sime-loving whore turned me down."
Alissa swallowed convulsively. The storm raged outside, treesgroaning in protest as the wind fought through their branches,stripping leaves on its relentless journey forward. Alissa sawthe tent sway and prayed it would hold up. But the storm outsidewas no less fierce than the battle within. This was not goingso good.
Not good at all. In fact, disastrous endings to this debacle wereall that came to mind. The man above her had easily twice herstrength and, at the moment, had the entire length of her body,pressed to the ground. She couldn't move a muscle. The storm outsidewas threatening their small sanctuary. Her unconscious patienteven now could be dying. She had to escape his iron grip. Andquick. Perhaps concessions were in order.
"I was wrong," she whispered, renewed fear for her lifeand that of her young charge battling and winning out over heranger. If she didn't get him out of here soon, Jeanetta wouldeither awaken and hurt him or she would die. "I-I-I reallywant to be your ... wife. It's just that, I had to help the girlwho had become like a sister to me. If you get up, I'll be gladto go back with you," she lied. Thank goodness this wasn'tTannon she was speaking to. Gens couldn't zlin the truth.
Alissa saw the young girl stir and tamped down on her tension.The last thing Jeanetta required was the wild emotions flyingaround her. Urgently, she repeated, "I'll go with you--now.Only just get off me."
At his continued silence, Alissa met his eyes and a cold fearsnaked up her spine at the unfamiliar look in them. "Wife?No. No, I don't want you as my wife anymore. I do want you, though.And, after I'm done, I'll take you back to the Church for theirvengeance, or at least I'll take what's left of you."
He smiled and she paled. "And Jeanetta?" she whisperedfearfully.
He didn't answer and he didn't have to, for Alissa knew if hesucceeded he'd make sure the young would-be Sime never rose fromher pallet. Hearing a stirring again, Alissa attempted to lookover his shoulder, but instead gasped when Donick suddenly crushedher against him, taking her mouth in a punishing kiss, hurtingthe earlier bruise he'd left.
Alissa felt dizzy, unable to breathe. She began to struggle, twistingher head, attempting to break free. When she thought she wouldfaint, he lifted his head. Letting go of her hands, he rearedup to rip her blouse off. Alissa saw her chance. In a lightningquick movement, she raised her hands and pushed with all her might.One hand slipped and landed square in his eye. Had it not beensuch a serious situation, she would have laughed at his shockedexpression that she was still fighting, albeit rather poorly.
"So, you still have spirit left in you?" His fist slammedinto her jaw.
She momentarily saw stars and was certain she was going to passout. But she fought it, struggling back to awareness. She hadto stop provoking Donick, she thought desperately, or else shewas going to do Jeanetta irreparable harm.
She tried hard, but feeling his horrid hands grabbing at her body,she was galvanized into further action. She thrust her knee upand watched as he paled, a low moan erupting from his throat.Cupping himself, he fell forward right back on top of her. Shen,he must weigh as much as a tree, she thought, furious thather plan had worked too well.
Alissa began to claw her way out, managing to slowly maneuverout from under him, the rain and mud having made them both slick.She started to gulp in a relieved breath. It turned into a gaspwhen her ankle was roughly grasped. She rolled to her back, kicking,one foot glancing off his face. But it gained her instant releaseas his hand went to his stinging mouth and nose. Scrambling toher feet, she started around him, barely registering his gruntof pain. But when his fingers closed around the forgotten dagger,she stopped short.
"You spawn of the devil. I don't care how I take you back.You're going to pay for your continued defiance!"
She saw the knife arcing above Donick's head, raised her armsto shield herself. Then she heard a pitiful moan and saw Jeanettarise as a specter would from a grave. As if in slow motion, shewatched Jeanetta block Donick's arm with her own hands, the impactknocking the knife out of his grip.
Alissa blinked in shock when Jeanetta suddenly thrust her armsupward, a keening cry erupting from her throat, tentacles burstingforth from their sheaths.
Alissa staggered to her feet, shoving her arms out in offering.Donick, regaining his balance, had surged forward, his hands goingfor Alissa's neck, his intent obvious in his flashing eyes.
Jeanetta turned toward Alissa, lowering her arms, planning touse Alissa. Donick saw Jeaneatte and realized his position. Hepanicked and pulled away from Alissa, eyeing the tent flap. Hemight have made it had his arms not bumped across Jeanetta's tentacles.
Alissa knew Donick's field erupted with fear because Jeanettaturned toward him. Alissa might have been able to still distractJeanetta had Donick not panicked and tried to knock Jeanetta asidein his futile attempt to get away. His abrupt gestures startledJeanetta into killmode. Seeing Donick's increased fear and hisgrowing struggles, Alissa feared there was no way to stop Jeanetta,but she had to try.
Donick's eyes bulged in horror and with one last burst of adrenaline,he attempted to pull away. But his strength was puny comparedto a Sime in killmode. Alissa started toward Jeanetta, flaringenticement, but Jeanetta's tentacles had already established afirm hold, her mouth had already planted itself against Donick'swho's was open in a scream that would never be heard. And, bythe time Alissa's arms were fully extended, Donick's lifelessbody was already slipping from Jeanetta's grip.
Jeanetta wasn't satisfied.
"Oh shen," Alissa cried, realizing Jeanetta must bea channel. She offered her arms again, prepared for transfer.And that's all the encouragement the junct channel required. Shelunged, jerking Alissa into her grip. Knowing the horribly violentdeath of Donick had caused Jeanetta's intense reaction, Alissabegan to push her selyn into the starving system as fast as Jeanettacould take it.
Alissa felt Jeanetta straining and knew she wanted something thatshe couldn't give her. Killbliss. She'd heard it mentioned atCarre. So, very carefully, she attempted to flood the girl withthe feeling of deep satisfaction as the peaking came and thenvery carefully eased her off. She waited until the world cameinto focus for Jeanetta, waited until the young woman began towhimper, then gathered Jeanetta into her arms and began to rockher, comforting her, hoping that she could explain to her thatit wasn't her fault that she'd just killed a man.
She could feel the Sime's confusion, wanted to reassure her, buthow? The dull throb in her head that had been only an inconvenienceearlier seemed to blossom out into a full blown pounding blockingout her thoughts. The world seemed to dim and with a moan, shelet the darkness envelope her.
* * *
Alissa's world came slowly back into focus. She stared up at thecanvas ceiling, listening to the quiet fall of the rain. Wherewas she? She moved slightly and her body voiced its objectionsin the new aches and pains she felt.
She heard sobbing and slowly her memory returned. The storm hadpassed. "jeanetta," she croaked, pushing herself toa sitting position, touching her tender jaw, noting she couldonly see through one eye. When she saw Donick's crumpled formand Jeanetta huddled in the corner of the tent, heart-wrenchingsobs tearing through her body, Alissa wanted to lie back downand forget. Her body was beginning to protest the cruel abuseit had suffered and she knew if she did lie back down, in a fewhours she'd be in so much pain she wouldn't be able to move.
Jeanetta, noticing the movement, raised her head. "You'realive?" Alissa saw a momentary relief in her features beforeher face crumpled again. "You said I wouldn't kill anyone,yet I did!"
"jeanetta. It wasn't your fault!" Alissa saidsharply and instantly regretted it. Moaning, she lowered her headto her hands. "Shen, I feel terrible. Listen," she continued,before Jeanetta could interrupt, "What happened to me wasn't--your--fault!I messed up. Donick--well, you saved my life. Now, help me up.We've got to get out of here."
"Where will we go?" Jeanetta asked, pulling Alissa unsteadilyto her feet.
"Home." Belatedly, she yanked at her ripped top, attemptingto drag the pieces back together.
"Home? I can't go back."
"No." Alissa shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebsfrom her mind. "My home. Carre. Can you lead the horse?"
Jeanetta nodded. "Tell me again. What's it like? This Carre?"
Alissa wobbled slightly as she stepped over Donick's still form.Leaving the tent, she gathered the supplies, noting the rain wasonly misting now. She breathed in the fresh scent, trying to cleansethe metallic smell from her senses. It did little good since theywere both covered in blood. Her shoes squished, filling with mudas she walked. She swayed occasionally as she attempted to makeher way over to the horse. "What is Carre like?" shemused. "Different from anything you've ever seen. And sinceyou're a channel, I'm taking you there instead of Ariot's."
"A long story. Now about home. The Simes and Gens live together.It's a large compound with acres and acres of fields, beautifultrees."
She allowed Jeanetta to boost her onto the horse. "A placewhere dreams can be fulfilled."
Realizing she'd been babbling, she replied, "Oh, nothing."She tied the bundle to the horse and adjusted her skirts, pullingonce again at her ragged top. "Tannon," she whispered,remembering his ready smile. "You tried to tell me I waschasing a mirage, looking for a place that didn't exist. Leonieand Merrick even attempted to tell me, but I wouldn't listen."Alissa shook her head in exasperation at herself and instantlyregretted it. "Shen, I feel bad." Straightening, Alissamuttered, "I just wouldn't listen. I was wrong and was almosttoo late in discovering the real dream I was chasing was alwaysthere, at Carre."
She pushed herself to a sitting position as Jeanetta mounted infront of her. As soon as Jeanetta adjusted herself in the saddle,Alissa slumped against her.
"I don't understand," Jeanetta said, confusion clearin her voice.
Alissa smiled against the girl's back and replied softly, "No.But Tannon will."
"Which way?" Alissa pointed and then shook her head.Jeanetta was certainly doing much better than only minutes ago.Perhaps the responsibility of helping her or the talking had restoredher equilibrium.
"Is that where your friend is? The one you were always thinkingabout when you were with Donick or us?"
Alissa couldn't help but be surprised by the young lady's perceptiveness,Friend, she mused. Did he know all along that the dreamI was chasing would be found within those four walls? Did heknow that it was the same as his?
"Friend? Yes, that's where my friend lives. Did I ever tellyou about the time he saved my life from a group of crazed Simes?"
They continued on their journey, returning to a place where shewas certain she belonged, with a people she once considered herenemy, but now knew the truth: all along they had been her dream,her hope for the future. She touched Jeanetta's tentacles, allowingher to wrap them around her arm. This was her true dream. Andwhen she got back to Carre, she'd be sure to tell them so.