Ambrov Zeor & Companion In Zeor Special Edition #2
The Only Good Sime . . .
Copyright (c) 1992 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer. All rights reserved.
THE ONLY GOOD SIME . . .
Copyright (c) 1992 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer. All rights reserved.
Attention Webmasters: All copyrights to fiction set in the Sime~Gen Universe are officially registered with the Library of Congress and Jacqueline Lichtenberg holds all the rights to that fictional Universe while some of the co-authors she has invited hold the rights to their own novels. You may not repost any of the Sime~Gen fiction you may find posted on the Web. However, we will be most pleased to trade links with your site should you believe your visitors would be interested in this Universe. Email: AmbrovZeor@aol.com
Web Version Forward
You are wandering the corridors of the Virtual Tecton.
What you are about to view is a story set in the early days of the Tecton when two varieties of humans, Simes and Gens, were gingerly exploring the possibility of living together without murdering each other on sight.
You may download this novel to absorb at your leisure, or you may bookmark this location and return later.
At the Sime~Gen central page, you will find links to other sites where you can read The Best Of the material which, over the last twenty years or so, has been printed in the five or six Sime~Gen fanzines. And you will find the first of the online electronic Sime~Gen fanzines with all new material.
More: you will find how to order the newest professional Sime~Gen novel, and how to subscribe to the free Sime~Gen Listserve to connect with all of us by email.
And if you're new to Sime~Gen or need a refresher course in the universe's background, see our slowly developing FAQ files on the central site. But first, try reading The Only Good Sime as it is here. It should provide an easily understood introduction to the Sime~Gen Universe. And when you finish reading this one, come back for Andrea Alton's Icy Nager which is written assuming you already have the basics of the background mastered.
The central key site for Sime~Gen fandom's sprawling network of websites is located at URL: http://www.best.com/~shadorat/sg/sgfr.html Click here to go to "Tecton Central"
Live Long and Prosper,
Email Jacqueline Lichtenberg: AmbrovZeor@aol.com
THE ONLY GOOD SIME . . .
First Printing: November, 1992 -- 50 copies
Second Printing: January, 1993 -- 25 copies
Editor and Publisher: Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer
Typist: Sheila Wenrich
Copyright (c) 1992 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer. All rights reserved.
All original artwork remains the property of its creator.
Art: Donell Meadows: cover, pages 15, 40 and 58
Malu Block: page 26
Beth Ann Wempe: page 101
Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer: Pages 29 and 107
Publication does not constitute endorsement by the staff of Ambrov Zeor or Companion in Zeor. All fiction and artwork published in this magazine takes place in an alternate Sime/Gen universe.
For more information on the S/G fanzines, back issues, and future issues, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Kerry at the address given above.
Jacqueline invites letters and comments on all aspects of her work. Her current address is P. O. B. 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
Special thanks to our typist, Sheila Wenrich, who did such a beautiful job on ICY NAGER and ONLY GOOD SIME. Not only did she type both manuscripts, but she went back and added in numerous revisions and changes, as these became necessary. I could never have gotten these two Special Editions done so quickly or so well without her invaluable assistance. -- Kerry
A Sample of the Story:
THE ONLY GOOD SIME
A Sime/Gen novel by Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer and Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Frevven felt Richt's attention focus on him, and there was a queer fluttery feeling in the middle of his chest ...
"Get up, Sime. Don't kneel there mocking the position of prayer. It won't do you any good. Get up and confess before this holy company how you perverted that poor child, underpinning his faith in God with your blasphemy and making him turn Sime! Confess!"
Frevven tried to get to his feet to face his accuser, but his legs seemed unwilling to obey him.
In the distant future of this universe, humanity has mutated into Sime and Gen. The Gens, sole producers of life-energy, are preyed upon and killed by the Simes, who must take this energy to live. A small number of Simes called channels are able to take this energy from Gens without killing them and give it to other Simes. This has allowed for an uneasy peace to develop between the Sime and Gen Territories, which had been in a state of more or less constant warfare for years.
When Frevven Aylmeer, a channel, is sent to run a Sime Center on an isolated group of islands in Gen Territory, he uncovers a sinister plot by a fanatical religious cult. At the same time, he discovers and faces some things about himself that he'd almost rather not have known.
FROM YOUR EDITOR
For those readers who are not already Sime/Gen fans, I hope the above excerpt has motivated you to read on. Then there are those of you who need no motivation, who have met Frevven before in the pages of "Ambrov Zeor" and are eagerly awaiting this new synthesis of his adventures. There are even a number of folks who have paid an exorbitant price just to see this novel in print. (For more about them, see the following page.)
Please note that the version of Only Good Sime in this zine is a preliminary draft, and is not necessarily the final draft that Jacqueline Lichtenberg plans to submit to a professional publisher.
We welcome comments on this novel for the next "Ambrov Zeor" lettercolumn, so if you've got something to say, write to me. If I print it, you get a complimentary copy of AZ. We would especially like critical comments, as work on this novel is far from done and there is still time to make changes before professional submission.
For any new readers who would like to know more about the Sime/Gen series, see the back of this zine for further information.
OUR SPONSORS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THIS SPECIAL EDITION POSSIBLE. THEY PROVIDED THE FINANCIAL BASE FOR PRINTING THE ZINE. "AMBROV ZEOR" AND "COMPANION IN ZEOR" SPLIT THE REST OF THE COST BETWEEN THEM, BUT WITHOUT OUR SPONSORS' EXTRA HELP, THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ENOUGH MONEY AVAILABLE. THESE ARE SOME OF THE FOLKS WITHOUT WHOM SIME/GEN FANDOM WOULD HAVE LONG AGO DIED OF ATTRITION.
Mary Lou Mendum
Cherri L. Munoz (sic RBW Muñoz)
R. Laurraine Tutihasi
FOREWORD to the print edition
You hold in your hands a very strange product.
The two novels, Icy Nager and Only Good Sime, are the work of writers who have written novels I consider so good that they ought to be professionally published as part of the S/G universe canon. And indeed, it is still our intention to see these two novels into professional print. But that may take years, and they may come out under different titles.
Meanwhile Icy Nager is here for you in a foreshortened version, lacking much of the explanation of the Sime/Gen background. It is a perfect example of a "fanovel," a novel written by a fan to be read by other fans. To get the full impact, it is recommended that you have read some of the other Sime/Gen novels.
Those of you who have memorized the other books will enjoy this intriguing novel with its lovable characters even more. The professionally published books must be overburdened with repetitious explanations aimed at the casual or new reader, which often blunts the true fan's enjoyment. Andrea here offers a S/G novel not slowed with explanations.
I'd like to ask anyone who is reading Icy Nager as your first S/G novel, or first in a long time, to let us know what questions you want answered in the expanded, professionally published version.
Only Good Sime is different. It contains most of the background it will contain when professionally published and can be read as a first Sime/Gen novel. But it still leaves many questions open. We'd like to know what intrigues you most, what you want to learn more about, what details should be filled in.
On both these novels, I am listed as joint author, but the characters, the situations, the themes and the overall vision of the Sime/Gen universe in each novel belong to Andrea or Kerry. As with Jean Lorrah, I have worked (and it's been years and many, many drafts) on the technical background, the plot structure, the pacing, the conflicts, and the jigsawing of the stories they wanted to tell into the overall Sime/Gen historical sequence. In both Icy Nager and Only Good Sime, I changed the historical sequence I had planned for the universe in order to accomodate (sic RBW accommodate) their visions.
Icy Nager introduces the Prophetstowners, invented by Andrea Alton. At first, I didn't think their method of transfer would be possible in the "real" S/G universe, but Andrea convinced me. Now they are considered part of the canon--they really existed. Some day, Sime archeologists will rediscover them and Gen anthropologists will do tv specials on the Prophetstown phenomenon. Of course, the tabloids will get hold of it first. Politicians will have a field day. And God alone knows what the Church of the Purity will say about Soul-Sharing!
Only Good Sime deals with the man who survives to become the last of the disjunct channels allowed to remain as a functioning channel. Frevven's life spans an era from the beginnings of Unity, when they train disjunct channels only with great reluctance, through the time of the Secret Pens, to the deaths of the very last semi-juncts who depend on the disjunct channels for life itself.
Kerry has written stories in AMBROV ZEOR detailing the important events of his life, up to and including his death, but here she tells of his first effect on recorded history. His triumphs and tragedies before this were purely personal. Here, now, in Only Good Sime, for the first time in his life, he changes the course of S/G history.
If Reverend Richt had secured the islands as a base of operations, the splinter cult he represented would have had a stronghold from which to topple the fragile Unity. Reverend Richt had the Donor's background and the ruthlessness to discover the Secret Pens and use the scandal to bring down the Tecton. Only one person had the guts to stand against him. Of course, this was only one battle among many, one crisis among many. But it would have taken only one or two losses to have plunged the Tecton back into the dark ages.
With these two authors, as with Jean Lorrah's books, we get to peek through another window into S/G. With the publication of these two novels, we now have four authors involved in Sime/Gen at the professional level, four different points of view, fleshing out the universe.
These two novels are brought to you as special editions of two combined "fanzines." Fanzines are labors of love. Fanzine publishing is not "nonprofit" for in a nonprofit organization workers are paid a salary. Fanzine publishing is an "out-of-pocket" operation. And nobody involved gets paid, not even the authors who have worked years over many drafts of the story. Authors even pay round trip postage on their many repeated manuscript submissions.
All of the labor, including the production typing, the phone-calling, the trips to the printer, the letter writing, the envelope addressing--all of the labor is done in our spare time. The supplies our typists use, the computers they use, and most of the postage is all "out-of-pocket" expense that you, the reader, do not pay for.
You have paid for the printing, the paper, the postage, the envelope it was mailed to you in. You have not paid for the cubic feet of storage space in our houses, or for the trips to the bank to deposit your checks, or the trips to the post office to ship it to you. The product of an ordinary business includes all these expenses. This 'zine is not the product of a business, but the product of love for this fantasy universe.
This 'zine comes to you because of the large number of generous fans of this universe who have donated money because even with the horribly high price you are paying, and the ridiculously long list of out-of-pocket expenses we've each contributed, we lose money on each 'zine.
We didn't invent the idea of the fanzine. It was invented by science fiction fandom way back in the 1930's and '40's. It was redesigned by Star Trek fans in the '70's. And we have taken it a step farther--for what you hold in your hands is NOT amateur writing. Both Andrea Alton and Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer are professional writers and this product is as good as any you will find on the newstands.
This is, however, an amateur publication--as are the fanzines AMBROV ZEOR, COMPANION IN ZEOR and ZEOR FORUM. The paper is better quality than a paperback, but less than a hardcover book. The binding is another problem. The 'zine contains more typos than some professional books, less than others. It contains more subtle inconsistencies than a professionally published book because it hasn't been copyedited to conform to the published novels. But then they don't conform to each other because they came from different publishing houses. When you order them, fanzines are shipped in the spare time of the person doing the task. This is not a business. It doesn't get top priority over school, work, or family obligations. So it can take a while.
It is a tradition in sf and ST fandom that even when you buy a fanzine, you still owe the author, editor, and publisher more than money--for they put more than money into it. You owe them feedback--a letter-of-comment, a LoC.
Even if your comments are unfavorable, they will be welcome, for in this way you can affect what we write and publish next. Any LoC you send us may be published, unless you state on the letter that you do not want it published. But if your LoC is published, you will get a copy of the 'zine it appears in, for we consider a LoC a labor of love, too--even, or especially, when it points out our shortcomings.
In the future, if your response to these novels is favorable, we may bring you some other novel-length works in this 'zine format, works which may never be suitable for professional publication because they'd be of interest only to fans of the universe, not because they aren't as well written. As with the shorter stories in the fanzines, we will present this material only after we are satisfied that the author has hit the highest possible standard he or she can manage.
Anyone is welcome to submit a S/G story to these fanzines, but brace yourself. It is often three to five years of hard work between submission and actual publication, and occasionally, we do turn a story down as unsuitable (though unlike professional publications, we will tell you why). If it is accepted, a submission is likely to be criticized by professionals searching out the flaws--and perfections--and telling you about it in unvarnished language.
Spring Valley, New York
For Jacqueline Lichtenberg,
Without whom none of this
would ever have happened.
Thank you for changing my life.
"The value of the Sime/Gen mutation will be evident only when mankind is reunified. Out of Death was I born, Unto Zeor, Forever!"
Muryin Alur Farris, Sectuib in Zeor
"The only good Sime is a dead Sime. In the Name of Almighty God, let us destroy the monsters!"
The Reverend Amarias Beltraim, Chilton Lake Parish of the Church of the Purity
"Damn Simes. They've got no business coming into our territory!"
Frevven Aylmeer tried to ignore the overheard comment, but there was no way he could avoid zlinning the speaker's potent resentment. The man's emotions lanced through him like hot daggers.
He resisted the impulse to turn around, keeping his greenish-gold eyes directed out over the restless sea beyond the railing of the schooner, ostensibly watching the low-flying clouds and fog which promised to turn to rain at any moment. The mournful wail of a distant foghorn drifted over the roiling water.
Frevven knew that remark had been aimed at him. He felt the unmistakable harshness of focussed hatred, fierce enough to penetrate the more ordinary haze of hostile emotions coming from the group of passengers gathered on the opposite side of the deck. Being exposed to that almost palpable morass of loathing would have been enough to upset an ordinary Sime, let alone a channel like Frevven. On top of everything else, at least one of those people was feeling seasick.
Frevven set his face into a neutral expression, trying to ignore what he couldn't help but zlin. He didn't want to be here any more than they wanted him here. Why couldn't they be minimally polite and exercise some control over their feelings?
The particular texture of the anger of the man who had verbally insulted him told Frevven that this Gen knew just how much his ferocious rejection was hurting the lone channel.
If he knew about me, he wouldn't provoke me like that.
Instantly, Frevven was ashamed of the thought.
"Ignore them," advised Kurt ambrov Rymal, the trained Gen who had been assigned as Frevven's Escort for this trip.
Frevven edged closer to Kurt, using the young man's field as a buffer between himself and the surrounding fields. Kurt was Gen, like the rest of the passengers on the schooner. He couldn't zlin selyn fields, sensing the life energy produced so uniquely by Gens. Merely knowing people hated you was very different from having to feel that hatred reverberating throughout your mind and body.
The Cormorant tacked, with much shouting of orders and running about by the crew. Sails flapped, swung across to the other side of the deck, and filled once again with wind.
The schooner pitched wildly as the bow came around, then the deck tilted at a steep angle, moving more violently in response to the waves than it had on the previous heading. Frevven kept his balance with ease, relying on the unconscious Sime grace that Gens found so menacing. Casually, as he readjusted his position to the slope of the deck, he glanced back over his shoulder at his tormentors.
Just a group of ordinary people, spread around the deck but all keeping their distance from the Sime. Frevven's poor eyes prevented him from seeing details clearly, even with the correction afforded by his eyeglasses. If he depended on his vision alone, the other passengers were smeary silhouettes against the cloudy sky and swirling gray fog.
One of the Gens suddenly clutched his stomach and leaned over the railing to throw up, tormented beyond endurance by the motion of the boat. Frevven knew his own face was probably as pale and drawn as that unfortunate Gen's, but it wasn't seasickness that bothered him.
"Hajene Aylmeer," muttered Kurt in formal, respectful Simelan, "do you want to go belowdecks again? At least you wouldn't have to be exposed to all this."
Frevven concentrated on the cold wind whipping the hair away from his face, the foaming seawater splashing against the hull. "No. We'll be in port soon. I'll be fine as soon as I reach the Sime Center."
He lifted his hand to adjust the wire-framed eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose, moving very carefully so as not to let the loose sleeves of his coat fall back and expose his arms to the view of the Gens on the deck.
He wore retainers, thick, heavy metal cylinders that encased his forearms from his wrists almost to his elbows, hiding and immobilizing the tentacles that marked him as a Sime--the tentacles most Gens feared, for they were the organs that Simes used to kill Gens.
When travelling outside Sime Territory, Simes were required by Gen law to wear retainers, which were specially insulated to interfere with Sime senses by blocking the selyn field away from the nerve-rich lateral tentacles, while also forcing the powerful handling tentacles to remain retracted in their sheaths. The law was meant to protect Gens from a Sime who might otherwise be accidentally provoked into taking a Kill.
Originally invented as torture devices, retainers had been made more comfortable in recent years, but they were still far from pleasant, especially for Frevven, who had trained himself to depend primarily on his Sime senses, rather than his poor eyesight.
Replacing his hand on the smooth wood of the railing, Frevven glared at the shiny edges of the retainers protruding from his sleeves. He'd been wearing them for close to five hours now, ever since he'd left the Sime Center in Easthaven and boarded the Cormorant. And prior to that, almost a full day's ride by coach, just to reach Easthaven from Sime Territory. He'd have to get out of the damned things soon. One lateral tentacle was numb, and the other three ached horribly from being forced to remain extended and confined for such a long time.
Kurt pulled off a glove and laid one hand carefully over the cuff of Frevven's sleeve, just at the bottom of the retainer. The concern in his nager, the field generated by the throb of selyn within him, was like a soothing balm to the channel's nerves. "You look as if you're about to collapse. Is there any way I can help?"
"You're a model Escort, Kurt, but there's not much more you can do. It's just these shendi-flecking retainers, that's all."
The wind swept their low voices away from the crowd of Gens on the deck behind them, but even so Kurt continued to speak in Simelan. "You'll get used to wearing them after you've had more practice." He shrugged apologetically, the thin line of brown moustache on his upper lip threatening to turn upward with his lips in a smile, despite the circumstances. "Or, at least, that's what the Simes tell me," he added.
"Someone once told me you get used to hanging, if you hang long enough," Frevven remarked sourly.
"I suppose our fellow passengers aren't making things easy for you, are they?" Kurt jerked his head slightly, indicating the people behind them. A lock of dark blond hair worked its way out from under the woolen cap pulled tightly down over his ears. "The islanders don't really understand about Simes. Before the Center was opened five years ago, there hadn't been a Sime on any of the Out-Islands for as long as they've been settled." His nager swirled uneasily, and his mouth tightened. "With the exception of berserkers, of course."
Frevven tried to concentrate on Kurt's words and his nager, but the man who had originally made the insulting remark now seemed to be haranguing the crowd. All that reached Frevven on the wind was a cadence, a certain tone of voice that labelled the man a preacher, probably Church of the Purity.
The channel shuddered involuntarily. Mistaking his reaction, Kurt hastened to add, "It won't be that bad on Innsfrey. The Center is on the beach, way off at the edge of town. They say the ambient nager from the town doesn't even keep the channels awake at night."
"It's not that--" Frevven started to say, then cut off, appalled at what he'd been about to reveal about himself. He was coming here to administer the Center, to be the local controller. It wouldn't do to admit in front of the in-Territory-born staff that his own father had been a devout member of the Church of the Purity, believing that Simes had no souls.
Frevven's eyes met Kurt's, and, as one, they turned to face the speaker. He'd stepped forward from the crowd and come close enough now so that Frevven could zlin him relatively clearly without effort, despite the distortion produced by his retainers. The Gen had an inordinately high field for someone who wasn't a trained selyn Donor, but there was a distinct unpleasantness to it, a sort of skewed imbalance that raked across Frevven's nerves like nails across a blackboard.
Frevven squinted, wondering if his bad eyes were playing tricks on him. The strange Gen seemed to be wearing a gray robe, the long skirt hanging below his overcoat almost to the deck. Church of the Purity clergy wore black, not gray. And they seldom wore a cassock like that except in church.
Perceiving a threat, Kurt focussed in tight on Frevven with the kind of precision concentration normally reserved for backing up a channel who was doing delicate healing functionals.
Frevven touched his Escort's wrist. "Relax. I can handle it without all that. Who is he?"
"Clarendon Richt," Kurt replied in hasty Simelan. "Came to Innsfrey about a year ago. Sanctimonious lorsh if ever there was one."
Frevven took a step forward, switching to English, but adopting the slight Simelan accent he had deliberately trained himself to use. "Do you wish to speak with me, Reverend Richt?"
"Are you the new channel being sent to our island?"
The Gen nodded his head with satisfaction, as if his suspicions had been proven correct.
"There are more than enough Simes on Innsfrey already, always coming and going. We demand to know what you're plotting at that-Center-of yours."
Plotting? But it was true that the personnel turnover at backwater postings like this was incredibly high, not to mention the channels who had to travel out here every so often to collect the excess selyn from the resident channel. That must be what the preacher objected to. From his own experience, Frevven knew how suspicious small-town folk tended to be of strangers, so it was only to be expected that they would be even more suspicious of Sime strangers.
"I have been assigned to be the resident channel for the Out-Islands," Frevven replied, hoping he sounded more polite than he felt. "I expect to be here for quite some time." Unfortunately.
Richt took a few steps in Frevven's direction, coming daringly close to the Sime for an out-Territory citizen. The man's unpleasant nager almost swamped Kurt's, but Kurt was supposed to have a high field. Richt certainly wasn't.
The preacher inspected Frevven as if he had just crawled out from under a particularly filthy rock. As he did so, Frevven felt as if slimy worms were crawling all over his body.
"I assure you, your stay in the islands will be much briefer than you expect." Richt turned to the knot of Gens behind him, raised both his arms and declaimed in a sonorous voice, "Let us pray to Almighty God to purge our island of this scourge of demons!"
He strode away across the deck, but, although his back was now turned, Richt kept his attention on Frevven, almost as if the Gen knew full well how it scalded the channel's nerves. And there was no way he could know that. The Church of the Purity would never allow any Gen trained to serve a Sime's need to be ordained. Without that training, Richt couldn't know-except in theory-what his hatred felt like to a Sime. He's frightened, that's all. He's not doing it deliberately.
Not for the first time, Frevven cursed his inordinate sensitivity. He was only a Second Order channel, not a First. He shouldn't be so vulnerable, certainly not while wearing retainers. The district controller didn't really believe in that excessive sensitivity. It wasn't in Frevven's file because it hadn't been there the last time he'd been tested. And he was not particularly anxious to be tested again.
Frevven grimaced. That was another reason he was being posted to Innsfrey. There was so little for a channel to do at this remote outpost that any First qualified to act as controller here would suffer from severe entran-lack of use of the channel's unique secondary system. A Second Order channel wouldn't have as much trouble.
He stared at Richt's back, letting the man's words bounce off his ears and blow away in the wind. With one last glance at the clergyman's robe-yes, it was gray, not black. Strange- Frevven turned away and leaned his elbows on the railing beside Kurt again. The Gen looked at him, his nager suffused with awe. "If I were Sime, I don't think I could have faced him down so calmly, especially under these circumstances. Shanneh says his field is weird."
"It is. What do you know about Richt? Any idea why he's on the boat?" Frevven took off his glasses, resisting the temptation to rub his stinging eyes, itchy and irritated from the salty wind. He stared out into the fog.
"Probably returning from Easthaven after submitting another one of his petitions to the local legislature to have our Center closed, if I know the Reverend."
"You can't be serious."
"He's been trying to get rid of us ever since he came to Innsfrey. Claims they got along just fine on the islands without us, so the Center's not necessary." Kurt gave a short, scornful laugh. "Don't worry, the Gen government's not about to close the Center just because a few Church of the Purity fanatics object to it. The controller you'll be replacing, Shanneh Tibbetts, managed to avoid dealing with Richt most of the time. I'm sure you can do the same."
Frevven wondered uncomfortably if District Controller Shagoury had known of this when she'd assigned him here. If so, the entire business became more than just a well-deserved disciplinary action against a Second Order channel who tended to exceed his authority.
But it would be paranoid to assume the Tecton administration had adopted a policy of trying to break him. The Tecton, the organization of channels and their trained Gen Donors, had better things to do than harass a Second, even a disjunct Second who had opened his big mouth once too often and stepped on official toes.
Frevven tried futilely to wipe the condensed moisture off the lenses of his glasses with one finger. Behind him, the impromptu congregation was singing a hymn about the idyllic future when there would be no more Simes, and the sacred obligation of every Gen to hasten that day. Richt's focussed hatred continued to lacerate the channel's nerves.
"I'd swear he's doing that deliberately," Frevven muttered.
"Concentrating on me. Trying to rattle me."
"Who? Reverend Richt?" Kurt looked over his shoulder, measuring the distance to where the preacher stood. "That's ridiculous. He's clear over by the far rail, surrounded by people. You're only just past turnover. How can you zlin him that well while wearing retainers, with this ambient?"
Frevven sighed. Kurt was a true professional, a Second Order Donor who knew his business. He'd obviously checked up on the channel he was assigned to accompany. "My chart is correct. I'm three days past turnover." And it had been a rough turnover, but he wasn't telling Kurt that.
Turnover was the halfway point in a Sime's monthly need cycle, the moment when half the selyn-the life energy-in the Sime's body had been used up. From that moment on, every bit of selyn the Sime used to sustain life brought him that much closer to need. The deeper into need a Sime went, the more easily he could be provoked into taking selyn from a Gen, killing the Gen in the process. But Frevven would take selyn only from a Donor such as Kurt, a specially trained Gen who could give him all the selyn he required and not be hurt.
"You shouldn't be able to zlin that accurately when you're not in hard need," Kurt said definitely.
Still holding his glasses, Frevven studied the blur that was the other man's face. Kurt was his assigned Donor for this month. It could be a reasonably good transfer for a change.
"Maybe I shouldn't be able to, but I can." He closed his eyes lightly, letting his full attention flow into his perception of the ambient. It was skewed, twisted around the preacher, but if he concentrated, he could make out details. That was more than he could do with his eyes. "Richt is standing with one hand on a belaying pin along the pinrail and the other on his hip. Eleven men and six women are standing around him. One of the women is pregnant. There are two Gens back aft at the wheel, another near the bowsprit, and one up in the rigging."
He opened his eyes and replaced his glasses on his nose, not even bothering to turn and check how accurate his description had been. He didn't have to. "Convinced now?"
Frevven felt another shimmer of awe from his Escort, but it was quickly replaced by a twinge of uncertainty. He read my chart, the channel thought uneasily. He knows-
"Hajene, I can't serve a First Order channel in transfer."
Oh, that's all he's worried about?
Frevven forced a slight smile onto his lips. "I'm only a Second, don't worry. In my entire professional career, I've never yet hurt one of my Donors. You're rated close enough to me that I won't give you any trouble."
As Kurt's eyes darted once again back over his shoulder, Frevven could almost hear the unspoken words flowing through the Gen's mind: Yeah, I'll just bet.
"Listen, I think the sensitivity is a compensation for my eyes, since they've been getting much worse lately. It's not connected to my selyn capacity or draw speed. I'm not exactly your typical Second, but I'm nothing like a First." But don't I wish I were!
Kurt had no reply. In the silence between them, Richt's voice drifted once again to Frevven's ears, a phrase carried on the wind. "And on that day, there shall be no more Simes. You shall be Gen, and all your children shall be Gen!"
"Amen!" came the enthusiastic response.
"I don't like the sound of that," Frevven said to Kurt in an undertone.
Kurt shrugged. "The Church of the Purity doesn't have enough support on the islands to pose a threat to us."
"I'm not so sure that's just Church of the Purity," Frevven said, recalling the unusual color of the preacher's cassock. Besides, that hymn they'd been singing hadn't sounded at all familiar. He might have mentioned it to Kurt, but he wasn't particularly interested in admitting how very much he knew about the Church.
"He's not important, Hajene. Don't worry about it."
But Frevven worried about it. He worried about it while the Cormorant rounded Sandy Point, sailed across Innsfrey Harbor, and came into the dock. He worried as he waited for the crowd to clear, until there were only a few stragglers and the still-angry clergyman on the pier to stare at the Sime disembarking from the Cormorant, and he worried while Kurt led him down the gangway.
Clarendon Richt looked around from an earnest conversation he was having with several members of the schooner's crew. He stood glaring at Frevven as he walked by, his hatred twisting the ambient into a sickening mess.
Frevven picked up his pace, almost leaving Kurt behind in his haste to get out of Richt's presence.
"Slow down, Hajene Aylmeer," the Gen remarked in Simelan, softly enough so that none of the passers-by could tell he wasn't speaking English. "I can't keep up with you without running, and that would only draw more attention to us."
Frevven made an effort to keep to a normal speed, realizing he had been close to augmenting, consuming extra selyn so he could move faster than would normally be possible. They had almost made it off the long dock, but Frevven could still zlin Richt not too far behind him. For a moment, he wondered if Richt was following them.
No, of course not. He was being paranoid. The minister was simply on his way into town also.
"I'm sorry we've got to walk to the Center, Hajene," Kurt remarked as they cleared the end of the pier and turned onto the busy main street of Innsfrey Harbor Town. "The buckboard has a broken axle, and the local blacksmith doesn't seem in a hurry to fix it for us. It's not too far to the Center, though." He smiled in reassurance, and then glanced up at the lowering sky. "I just hope it doesn't rain. We've had about enough rain here to last us all winter, and autumn isn't quite over yet."
And, indeed, the water-filled ruts and mud puddles in the road bore mute testimony to the lovely weather they'd been having on the islands.
Frevven felt momentarily disoriented by the hustle and bustle surrounding him. So many undisciplined Gens going every which way, totally unlike the in-Territory Gens he was accustomed to, who took care to keep their nagers toned down in consideration for passing Simes.
He had to walk the length of this street? He felt as if he were being asked to run a gauntlet. As soon as the townspeople recognized him as Sime, all that churning mass of busyness would congeal into active hostility.
He wished he could go completely hypoconscious, ignoring the selyn fields all around him, but that wouldn't help the situation. He still had to make his way through the town, and he didn't dare depend on his myopic eyesight alone. He'd be likely to walk right into a mud puddle if he did that.
If the ambient had been bad on the boat, it was downright awful here. And Richt was still behind him, projecting concentrated hatred.
Kurt edged closer, drawing his field into a disciplined focus on Frevven, shielding him from the ambient as much as possible. "Not far now, Hajene. The Center's just a dozen or so blocks away," he urged. "Come on."
Frevven inhaled slowly, exhaled, and stepped onto the wooden sidewalk alongside Kurt. Get it over with. There's nowhere else to go.
A little girl stared at them, then ran to hide behind her mother's skirt, peeking around and sticking out her tongue as Frevven and Kurt walked by.
"They learn so young, don't they?" Kurt remarked once they were past the girl.
Frevven nodded shortly. And then he asked himself, And how old were you when you learned to hate Simes? Was there ever a time during your childhood when you weren't terrified that you would become one when you grew up? No wonder you hated them.
He shivered slightly, remembering the way it had been out-Territory. Always the knowledge that some of the children in Chilton Lake would turn Sime. Always the suspicion in the adults' minds, even your own family-especially your own family, for they were the ones in the most danger if you did change over. The ever-present fear that you were one of the damned, condemned to turn into a soulless killer at adolescence, despite all your fervent prayers. And for Frevven, it had been more than just fear; it had been a cold, dead certainty, kept hidden in the deepest recesses of his heart. Somehow, a channel knew, even if he tried his best to deny that knowledge.
Frevven attempted to dismiss the unpleasant memories, but they wouldn't go away. A sense of pervasive fear niggled at him, becoming more definite the harder he tried to banish it. Then he realized the fear came from outside himself.
He stopped dead in his tracks, closing his eyes and trying to zlin as well as he might through the retainers. No one would broadcast that particular combination of fear and self-loathing, except an out-Territory child knowing himself in changeover. No, he must be imagining things. Most likely the result of sensory deprivation from wearing these awful retainers for so long, combined with his thoughts about his childhood.
Kurt continued walking for a few more paces, and as the shielding effect of his warmly pulsing selyn field moved further away, Frevven could zlin the surrounding area more clearly.
The Gen turned back as he realized Frevven was no longer beside him. "Hajene Aylmeer? Is something wrong?"
Kurt's focussed attention blurred the distant fear. But Frevven had been able to pinpoint the reading exactly during the brief moment of clarity when the Gen had moved away from him.
"Shen! Oh, bloody shen," he whispered through clenched teeth. "It is a changeover!"
Richt and a knot of men and women were coming up slowly behind him, obviously wondering why he had stopped like that. If it came to a showdown, Kurt might easily do or say the wrong thing. The in-Territory-raised Donor simply did not understand Richt and couldn't take him seriously as a threat. A careless word might even cause a riot, given the emotional state of the preacher and the people around him. The Church was often more hostile to Donors than to channels, since the Donors presumably had a choice.
Stepping toward the mouth of a nearby alley, Frevven escaped Kurt's field long enough to study the child's fear again. It was so faint, and his retainers blurred it so much, that Frevven could only guess-and he knew his guess was part wishful.
As Kurt closed in again, truly worried now, Frevven said steadily, "Changeover victim. That direction-" he nodded slightly, hoping Richt wouldn't notice. "There should be enough time. Go to the Center, bring the field team here. I'll locate the kid and hold the situation steady until you arrive."
The Donor stared at Frevven as if he'd suddenly gone mad. Knowing it was a departure from regulations, Frevven hissed, "Channel's call. Move! Now!"
Kurt clamped his teeth over his objections, spun on his heel and went, making a conscious effort not to stalk away as if offended. At least he knows Richt's watching us, Frevven consoled himself as he watched his Escort stride off down the street.
For a moment, misgivings assailed him. Maybe he shouldn't have sent Kurt away?
One glance at Richt and his followers trying to seem innocent as they dawdled along, and he knew he'd done the right thing, even if it had meant invoking his authority over the Donor. If there was one thing he knew he wouldn't be able to stand right now, after the strain of this ghastly trip, it was seeing his assigned Donor stripped of selyn by a newly-changed-over Sime. Kurt was better out of this. Frevven could handle a changeover himself, as he had many times before.
However, he certainly didn't want to provoke a confrontation with the preacher. Gazing about as if simply enjoying the sights, he sauntered casually into a side street that led off obliquely into the surrounding warehouse district. It took him away from his patient, but that couldn't be helped for the moment.
As soon as he was out of Richt's line of sight, he increased his pace to a businesslike stride along the street lined with small shops and weather-beaten houses until he came to an alley that led back toward the distressed child. There were so many buildings between them now that he'd all but lost the awareness. After zlinning the surroundings to make sure nobody was watching him, he wandered into the alley as if to inspect something. He paused to see if anyone had noted his disappearance, but there was no undue disturbance in the ambient. Sure now that he had eluded the preacher, he turned and ran.
Augmenting, expending selyn to increase his speed and reflexes beyond anything a Gen could attain, he raced down the street and vaulted over a fence, dropping into a pile of broken, vile-smelling fishboxes with an audible crunch of wood. A rat scuttled out from the debris beneath his feet as Frevven stepped carefully clear of the rubbish.
He found himself in a deserted back alley littered with trash, broken glass, and empty shipping crates. But his patient was nearby. He spotted the back of the building he wanted, but it was attached to others on each side and had no back window. He ran to the left, rounded a corner, and backtracked at a less conspicuous pace, looking for the front of the building. There were Gens on this street, moving cargo or working at various tasks. Frevven carefully stuck his hands in his coat pockets, hoping to hide the retainers. Some of the Gens noticed him, but their faint attention swept on past.
He strolled along until he found the door to the building, zlinning as he pretended to read the sign indicating it was a ship chandler's warehouse. There was no one around, and though the door was closed, it wasn't latched-not so odd in a small town. Sure that nobody was watching, Frevven pushed open the door a crack, slipped in, and pulled it shut behind him, lowering the bar into place. Since anyone with a key could get the door open, he picked up a rusty metal rod and jammed it into the crude mechanism before going any further.
The dim, high-ceilinged building would be just the sort of place a changeover victim would seek instinctively. Frevven picked his way across the littered floor, around large barrels and coils of heavy new-smelling rope. He knew just where his patient was hiding-behind a large heap of tangled fishnet in the farthest corner from the door. There was an open space in front of the pile that looked freshly swept, as if it had just been cleared to make room for a delivery-off the same schooner that had brought him? If so, they didn't have much time.
Frevven approached the youngster carefully, feeling for the fields and worrying about his numb lateral. He'd have to get that retainer loosened, just in case he had to give transfer. And now that he was closer, Frevven was very much afraid he might have to do just that.
Rounding the heap of fishnet, he saw the youth huddled miserably against the wall as if trying to press himself through it. He was Sime-slender, short but full-grown and ready for unfolding manhood. But to him, the process of changeover into an adult Sime was no joy to be welcomed.
Keeping a cautious distance, Frevven went down on one knee, his heart going out in sympathy to the wretched child.
"You don't have to be afraid anymore. I'll help you," Frevven reassured him.
The boy wore a faded woolen jacket that seemed far too big for his skinny body. The overlong sleeves had been pushed up, and Frevven could make out the swollen streaks that marked the developing tentacle sheaths extending from the wrists almost up to the elbows. He didn't require that sight to assess the child's state, though. He could zlin that the youngster was just entering the last stage of changeover.
The relentlessly accurate clock in Frevven's head told him it was unlikely Kurt would make it all the way to the Center and back in time. The changeover had progressed into the final stage as Frevven had searched for his patient, the boy's panic eating away at his selyn reserves faster than physiology could prepare him for adulthood. If he ran out of selyn before his lateral tentacles could receive it, he'd die in attrition.
Decisively, Frevven released the catches of the retainer on his numb arm, not to remove it yet, but just to get the circulation reviving his laterals. The metallic snaps startled the boy, drawing his attention to Frevven's forearms.
The youngster's eyes spotted the gleaming metal. "You're one of them!"
Frevven's fingers froze on the retainer catches, holding them in the half-open position so they'd keep the retainer in place, but so he could close it quickly if they were interrupted. He was all too aware of the out-Territory law that he could be shot on sight if found without retainers. He smiled stiffly at the boy, stifling a gasp of pain at the searing burn of returning circulation to his numb lateral. With the retainer partially open, he could move his laterals slightly in the confining space. But he could also sense fields clearer. The boy's sudden fear lanced through him.
"Don't kill me! I didn't do nothin'! Honest!" The youngster inched away, eyes glued to the half-open retainer.
"I don't kill," whispered Frevven, aware of how very sensitive his patient was right now. "I help people. I'm a channel. Do you know what a channel is?"
As if reciting a rote lesson, the boy answered doubtfully, "A-channel-can take selyn from Gens without hurting them and give it to other Simes so they won't have to kill Gens."
Frevven nodded. Keeping the open retainer close to his body, he edged nearer and stretched out his right hand toward the boy's arms. "You're not feeling well. Let me see if I can help." Simultaneously, he adjusted the selyn fields around his body to mesh with the child's, offering comfort. One of the major talents of a channel was his ability to consciously control the complex fields surrounding his own body. A channel could determine the way other Simes zlinned him, even make himself seem like a Gen, enticing the other Sime into taking selyn.
The boy's laterals had matured enough so that he was beginning to be able to zlin. As Frevven worked his way into the fields, the internal shifts and changes this wrought fascinated the youngster. Frevven was able to take hold of his hands and get a good look at his forearms.
He could see the bulging glands straining to spur maturity in time, and he could clearly discern the thinness of the membranes covering the six orifices around each wrist where the tentacles would eventually break out. But it was only the four laterals that concerned him now. The handling tentacles would present no problems.
Already, Frevven's work had lowered the boy's selyn consumption rate. He gave him a confident smile. "You're going to be fine. What's your name?"
"Em-Emerett DeSanctis. Reverend Richt says that's a good name and means I'll be Gen for sure."
Frevven sat back on his heels, momentarily uncertain as to how to respond to that. But nothing could be gained by lying; the boy had to know the truth, and he had to face it. Soon. "Emerett DeSanctis is a fine name. And I think it'll be an equally good name for a Sime, don't you?"
Emerett's selyn consumption rate soared as his anxiety flashed back. "No! I'm not-"
Frevven caught the boy's hands together, exposing the forearms, then shifting to run his fingers up to the elbows, using touch as well as his field to relieve the straining ache that would soon turn to hard spasms designed to break out the new tentacles.
"Emerett, you know what's happening. Denying the truth won't make it go away."
"Nooo! I won't be Sime!" the boy wailed in a pitiful effort to avoid facing the situation. "I won't! I was good! I don't want to kill!"
"You won't kill, because I'm here," Frevven said confidently. But a voice whispered viciously in his mind. Why was no one there for me?
He reached for Emerett, wanting to take him in his arms, knowing too well the agony of this moment of realization. But the boy twisted away. Fumbling under his coat, he yanked at a silver amulet hung around his neck on a thin chain. The chain broke and the boy thrust the talisman out toward Frevven as if to ward off a devil.
What was this supposed to do? Chase him away? Puzzled, Frevven closed his fingers around the amulet, letting the chain remain in Emerett's grasp while he studied the small charm. The symbol it bore resembled a somewhat lopsided cross, or perhaps a distorted letter K leaning slightly forward, the whole thing enclosed in a circle. Although he failed to recognize the design, the intent was clear.
"An amulet is meant to protect you from evil, but not from good. Being Sime is a good thing, every bit as good as being Gen."
Liar! came that same taunting voice in Frevven's head. You don't believe that! The channel squelched the traitorous thought. I do! Oh, I do!
"Hold onto this when the contractions come. Perhaps it will help you feel better." Frevven tried to press the amulet into Emerett's hands.
Seeing that his charm had not produced the desired effect, the boy released the chain with a dismayed cry. He scrabbled onto his knees and bowed his head, hands clenched in fervent prayer.
Frevven slid the small medallion absently into one of his pockets, intending to examine it more closely later on. Just now, there were more urgent things on his mind. Although his distractions had bought them some time, Emerett's selyn consumption rate was still too high, his present emotional upheaval not helping things any. The earliest possible moment that the Center's field crew could arrive was too far away.
There was one more thing for Frevven to try. It wasn't regulation, but he'd seen it done with a stubborn out-Territory kid when he'd been briefly stationed at a Center near the border. But that channel had been inside a Center, supported by Donors and other channels. Just zlinning it had given Frevven nightmares for weeks afterwards.
But he wasn't going to give this kid up without a fight. Kneeling in front of Emerett, Frevven took the boy's clenched hands between his own, adjusting the fields to try to bring the youngster to duoconsciousness, where he'd be aware of fields as well as of seeing and hearing Frevven.
Grimly, the channel allowed the memories he normally kept buried to surface in his mind. His body changing, becoming something alien and damnable. Looking down at his own itching, aching arms and seeing those telltale streaks for the first time. All his prayers, all his sincere promises, all betrayed by the reality of those tentacles developing on his arms.
He had not been good enough, tried hard enough, believed sincerely enough. It was all his fault. Hell yawned before his feet, and there was no other place for him. He would kill-and be murdered for it. Everyone did, even though they swore they wouldn't. He was damned.
In that timeless moment, God's love had died for Frevven and he knew only darkness and despair.
Emerett's dimming field melted into surprise.
Frevven pushed the hateful memories back into that locked corner of his mind where he never went. His hands wanted to shake, but he forced them to remain steady over Emerett's, as he said gently, "You see? I know how you feel. I've been through it. I can help you. You won't have to kill. Please, Emerett, let me help you avoid that. You've been a good boy. Let me help you become a good man."
"You do understand," the youngster responded, but a shadow of doubt darkened his field. "But do you love God?"
Struck cold by that question he'd never dared ask himself, much less answer, Frevven hesitated. In that moment, there came a sudden babble of shouting outside, and someone hammered on the door. "Who's in there? Open up! This is my warehouse, and you've no right to be in there!"
Frevven tore his attention away from the boy and zlinned through the door. A wagon loaded with something dense had been drawn up outside, horses blowing hard. A mob was fast gathering, and here came Clarendon Richt, bellowing about a Sime from the Center slinking about, spying maybe, or perverting children.
"That's Reverend Richt!" exclaimed Emerett, forgetting everything to call out, "Reverend, he's in here! He's got me! Reverend, help!"
Emerett's thin voice cracked and wobbled, but Richt heard. In seconds, teams of men were battering at the door with their shoulders.
The disturbance excited Emerett that last little bit, and his selyn consumption soared, sending his field plummeting. Knowing it would be a good five minutes yet before help could possibly arrive, even if the field team ran all the way from the Center, Frevven pried frantically at his other retainer, breaking a fingernail in his haste to release the stubborn catches.
Emerett didn't even notice. He was lost in his own world of the swirling black cold of need without a clear focus of what to do about it.
As Frevven worked to free his tentacles, fumbling in his haste and gasping at the pain, knowing full well that the retainers were designed to prevent just this sort of quick removal, he adjusted the fields, making himself appear as a selyn-rich Gen to the boy's new senses. Simultaneously, he kept part of his attention on the shaking door, trying to figure if he'd have time to give Emerett his transfer before one of those Gens got into the warehouse and presented the youngster with a far more tempting target.
With the retainers open just enough that he could get them off the rest of the way fairly quickly, Frevven eased the boy down onto the floor behind the heap of tangled netting. It afforded precious little attenuation of the angry field of the mob at the door, but it might help a little. Then he turned his exclusive attention on his patient, hoping the boy's lateral tentacles would be mature enough to take this transfer.
"All right, Emerett. It's time." Grabbing a section of the coarse fishnet, he thrust the rough fibre into the boy's hands. "Hold onto this. Tight."
Summoning all his clinical detachment, Frevven took hold of the boy's thin arms at the elbow, circling them with his thumb and longest finger. Squeezing gently, he slid his hand downward, forcing the fluids in the tentacle sheaths against the already thin membranes sealing the wrist orifices. He had to do it three times, gritting his teeth and ignoring Emerett's struggles, until nature finally brought on the contractions.
Knuckles white, grunting with the involuntary effort that forced him to sit up straight, Emerett clutched at the netting he held, then dropped it to fling his hands open as his tentacles broke free under Frevven's hands, splattering them both with warm, sticky fluid tinged with blood.
At the same moment, the door gave with a crash and a mob of Gens, armed with everything from a harpoon to a fisherman's filetting knife, boiled into the warehouse.
Before Frevven could free his tentacles from the retainers and twine them around Emerett's to give the boy the selyn he so desperately needed, Emerett was on his feet and leaping over the pile of netting. He hurtled towards one of the approaching Gens, leaving Frevven still crouching out of sight behind the fishnet, prying at his retainers.
Too late, the mob realized they faced a berserker, a Sime insane with First Need. In the instant before Emerett closed on his quarry, the texture of the rage-distorted ambient shifted to fear and Gen bloodlust, all spiked through with Richt's peculiarly powerful hate.
With his laterals almost free of the insulation of the retainers, the vicious ambient washed over Frevven like a tidal wave, taking his breath away. He'd felt that same sort of thing before, not long after his own changeover. His tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he felt he would suffocate in the overpowering ambient. All thought paralyzed, he just wanted to run away, to get clear of these hateful people before they destroyed him.
No. They're not after me. That was in Chilton Lake-this is here, now.
But the old panic surged up, spreading through his mind to pin him motionless behind the fishnet, as Emerett, confused by the multiplicity of fields, hesitated. Frevven could no more have leapt to the boy's rescue than he could have jumped to the moon. It seemed he was Emerett, pinned in the glare of that armed mob. No one Sime could prevail against so many, even if they were Gens. He was going to die.
As that realization flashed through his mind, the sickening morass that was the ambient lurched and skewed, rearranging around a peak of mortal terror as the Gen Emerett had fixed upon suddenly understood what it was he faced. In that same instant, Emerett, in the grip of First Need and too close to death by attrition to know what he was doing, leapt on the fear-struck Gen.
The Gen stumbled backwards and fell, and Emerett followed him down. As they fell, the youngster's hands closed on the Gen's forearms, and his eight powerful handling tentacles lashed out in reflex, securing his grip so the four smaller and more delicate lateral tentacles, one at each side of his wrists, could make contact with the Gen's forearms without risk of being damaged. Responding to blind instinct, Emerett forced his lips against the Gen's lips to close the fifth contact point necessary to balance the selyn flow.
Before the two of them even hit the floor, the ambient split with the exquisite thrill of killbliss, composed in equal parts of a Sime's fierce triumph at sudden reprieve from death and a Gen's stark terror at being forced into that abyss.
It hit altogether too close to home. Frevven could not stifle his own groan of denial.
As the boy scrambled to his feet, realization of what he'd done came in devastating waves-waves that echoed through Frevven, waking those long-buried memories that should no longer have any power over him, but did. Frevven struggled to collect himself.
His lips clamped over the scream rising in his throat, the channel struggled frantically to close the retainers around his arms, forcing his sensitive laterals brutally into the compartments designed for them. There was no point sacrificing his life now that it was too late to save that poor Gen. But maybe he could save Emerett from the mob.
Frevven shoved the last catch down, heedless of the pain from the badly seated retainers. But even as he caught a deep breath and levered himself to his feet, he heard the preacher's voice ring out over the frightened screams of the crowd.
"Destroy the demon! Quickly!!"
A man off to one side of the crowd raised a harpoon, cocked his arm, and let fly with stunning speed and accuracy.
The harpoon sliced cleanly through Emerett's chest, pinning his body to the floor. The long wooden shaft quivered as blood spurted up around it. Selyn leaked away from the wound in a bright haze, dissipating quickly.
Emerett lifted his head to see the man who'd impaled him, just as Frevven vaulted over the fishnet.
"Uncle Lem," the boy gasped, reaching towards the Gen, tentacles spread beseechingly. Then his glance fastened on his hand, surrounded by tentacles, and Frevven read Emerett's awful self-recognition and certainty of damnation.
"Emerett," whispered the harpooner called Lem. "Oh, dear God, what have I done?"
Ignoring the mob, Frevven scrambled over toward the prostrate body, hoping against all hope that he could still save him even as the ambient shuddered with the bittersweet deathshock that swept the young Sime away.
Frevven's whole attention had been focussed on the boy, excluding all else as only a trained channel could do. Only at the very last instant did he zlin the length of chain hurtling toward the back of his head, swung by a shrieking Gen woman. Sime reflexes sent him tumbling forward with the motion of the chain, turning the skull-shattering blow into a stunning smack across his back.
Augmenting reflexively, Frevven twisted and wrenched the chain out of the woman's grasp, rolling to his feet in a puddle of Emerett's blood. As Frevven rocked unsteadily on rubbery knees, fighting the spinning blackness that closed in from all sides, he felt Richt's nager rake through him contemptuously.
The minister pushed through to the front as the mob abruptly withdrew from the chain-wielding Sime, leaving Frevven and the preacher facing each other across Emerett's body. As Richt inspected the dead Sime at his feet, he had to know that Frevven could have used that chain to smash his head in, and then take out a dozen or so of the others before they got him. Yet Richt ignored the danger, announcing loudly, "We've slain one of the demons. God be praised!"
Frevven felt Richt's attention focus on him, and there was a queer fluttery feeling in the middle of his chest. He swayed slightly on his feet.
"And this one," Richt continued, turning to the retreating crowd, "who wishes to earn the special blessing of slaying this one for us?"
Frevven stared, hardly believing his ears. The man was mad. There was no way he could fail to realize how easy it would be for Frevven to strike him down. And yet, he seemed utterly confident that the channel would not harm him.
Frevven looked at the chain dangling from his fist. Strangely enough, Richt was right. All his adult life, he'd been trained not to hurt Gens. He wasn't about to start now. He tossed the heavy chain aside, and the motion sent him reeling to his knees as the room swam crazily around him.
"Get up, Sime. Don't kneel there mocking the position of prayer. It won't do you any good. Get up and confess before this holy company how you perverted that poor child, undermining his faith in God with your blasphemy and making him turn Sime! Confess!"
Frevven tried to get to his feet to face his accuser, but his legs seemed unwilling to obey him. Before he could stop himself, he muttered in Simelan, "Shen you, you pompous ayendi d'huvish. That's ridiculous."
"Pleading with us in that vile language of yours won't help you any," the minister replied smoothly. But the vicious flare of insult in Richt's revolting nager betrayed all too well his understanding of what Frevven had said and the knowledge that it had not been a plea for mercy. "I said stand up, wretched creature," he continued.
Unexpectedly, Richt reached down and grabbed Frevven's left retainer, deliberately twisting it sideways.
Pain lanced up the channel's arm and pierced through the center of his chest simultaneously. Somehow, he levered himself to his feet, desperate to relieve that searing pain. He staggered as Richt shoved him back against the rough wooden wall and stood there pointing at the channel. "Well, there he is. Isn't someone here ready to destroy the evil in our midst? Is it not written, `You shall not suffer a Sime to live'?" He looked expectantly at the crowd.
"He ain't done nothin' wrong, Reverend. He's even wearin' them retainer things," a woman objected.
"Sime-lover!" a voice cried out from the back of the crowd.
The woman quailed. "This one didn't kill Raoul," she persisted in a small voice, "Emerett did. It'd be different if this one had killed somebody."
Thank heavens, they don't know.
"Oh?" Richt challenged. "And would you leave them all alive, Marie Veara? Just because they `ain't done nothin' wrong' yet? Is not the very existence of this foul creature an affront to Almighty God?" he continued, stepping closer to Frevven, his powerful nager almost cutting off the channel's perception of the rest of the crowd. "If we destroy one of their precious channels, perhaps the Tecton will take seriously the fact that we don't want Simes on the islands. Destroy this creature, and enjoy God's blessing!"
If there had been even a flicker of hypocrisy in Richt's field, it might have been enough to galvanize Frevven into action. But the truly appalling thing was that the man believed absolutely in everything he said. Caught in the net of the preacher's fervent certainty, the channel stood frozen.
Lem picked up another harpoon from a stack against the wall. Frevven stared at the wickedly barbed point. He squared his narrow shoulders against the wall behind him, hoping he could at least die bravely. The clock in his head said the Center crew ought to be here, but he couldn't zlin beyond the preacher. They might be nearby, even now.
Oh, now! he thought desperately, as Lem approached, harpoon in hand.
Without so much as the flicker of an eyelash, Lem dropped the harpoon to the floor in front of Richt's feet. "You want him dead, you do it," he told the minister evenly. "I done enough destroying for today."
A pungent flash of bitter grief came to Frevven, even through Richt's concentrated wrath.
"Now, Lem, you know you don't mean that. You're distraught with sorrow," the preacher said, smoothly dismissing the other man's opposition.
Slowly, he stooped to pick up the harpoon. Lem stepped on the shaft, his face a frozen mask.
Richt straightened. "Think, man! You'd defend the Sime who perverted your nephew?" He looked out at the hesitant crowd, aware he was losing his grip on them. Gesturing contemptuously at Frevven, he said, "This vile creature has mesmerized you. He's stolen your souls. Your children will suffer for your lack of faith this day, mark my words."
A flicker of desperate fear threatened to ignite the ambient. With Richt's attention distracted, Frevven found words at last. Forgetting to use his Simelan accent, he said to the crowd, "Two people are dead because of your perverted faith. There was no reason for Emerett to have had to kill, no reason for you to take his life. I could have saved two lives, but your fear drove you to act in panic. Nothing can undo what has been done here-not another death, not anything at all."
Frevven's words struck home, threatening to neutralize the crowd's bloodlust. They wavered on the edge of dissolving from a mob into a collection of ordinary people, confused and uncertain over what they had done.
Richt's horrid nager flared outrage-at Frevven, for humiliating him in front of his own people. For a brief moment, he seemed to be trying to grasp those last shreds of fear and hatred lingering in the ambient, welding them together and solidifying them. He raised his hand in a flamboyant gesture and opened his mouth to say something.
Frevven never found out what Richt would have said. As Richt stood poised to make his appeal, the Center's field team arrived. The crowd drained numbly out the door as Sime/Gen pairs worked their way into the building.
Frevven practically fell into the solace of Kurt's welcoming nager, leaning heavily on the Gen's shoulder for support as the entire ambient flowed formless and shifted and spun.
He barely heard Hajene Tibbetts assure the departing crowd that everything was under control before the burgeoning blackness claimed him. But Richt's burning hatred followed him even into unconsciousness, pursuing him with a hideous and single-minded intensity.
Proceed to chapter two