ONLY GOOD SIME
BY KERRY LINDEMAN-SCHAEFER
Frevven regarded the small bowl of hot oatmeal sitting on the table before him with disgust. Even the bite-sized chunks of apple that had been sprinkled over the cereal failed to make it look appetizing. He took a sip of trin tea from the cup in his hand, telling himself he really ought to eat. Simes might not require much food, since their bodies ran on selyn rather than calories, but it wasn't healthy not to eat at all.
He dutifully swallowed a couple of spoonfuls of the oatmeal, watching the first rays of the morning sun shine hesitantly through the window of the dining hall. Half a dozen tables of varying sizes were spread at random around the small room, unoccupied except for the one nearest the window, where two renSimes, ordinary Simes who were not channels, sat talking quietly. They had seemed so involved in their conversation that Frevven had hesitated to disturb them, taking a seat instead at the far side of the room. An occasional clatter of dishes came from the kitchen, but Frevven tried not to zlin the Gen cooks. Their thoughts were on food preparation, and that didn't much appeal to him right now.
He'd explored the Center last evening after returning from the funeral, but today he intended to thoroughly familiarize himself with how it operated. In another week, Shanneh would have her transfer, and he wanted to be ready to take over from her by then so she could leave immediately afterwards.
He'd been too upset over Emerett and too concerned with the funeral to give his new assignment the attention it deserved, but now he was going to make up for lost time. Maybe he'd gotten off to a bad start, but that didn't mean he had to let things continue that way. He would make a success of this assignment, no matter how much he disliked it. As one of the rapidly dwindling number of disjunct channels, Frevven simply couldn't afford to fail at his first administrative post. He couldn't afford to fail, period.
Compulsory retirement for a working channel was often little better than a death sentence, since a channel's overdeveloped secondary system couldn't simply stop functioning without leading to all sorts of unpleasant and often fatal complications.
Scooping another spoonful of cereal into his mouth, Frevven leaned back in his chair and adjusted his glasses on his nose. Somewhere outside, a seagull squawked its raucous call, disturbing the early morning stillness.
He had almost managed to finish the oatmeal when he zlinned Kurt coming up the stairs and towards the dining hall. The Donor was hungry, intent on having breakfast. He loaded a tray with eggs and toast from the serving table before sitting down in the chair next to Frevven.
Responding to Kurt's interest in food, Frevven felt incongruously and inappropriately hungry himself. Too bad Kurt hadn't shown up sooner.
"V'lissia told me about the funeral yesterday," Kurt said between mouthfuls. "That was a great idea, letting Lem Cabrell take part in it the way you did. I've had dealings with Lem before and he's a decent guy. Not as fanatically anti-Sime as most, even if he doesn't come in to donate."
Kurt made no mention of the squid tentacles at the cemetery gate, so Frevven didn't bring up the subject. He watched as Kurt mopped up egg yolk with a piece of toast, mildly surprised, as always, with the enthusiasm a Gen could bring to a plate of food.
"If you're not busy this morning, how about filling me in on the details of how our rescue operation works?" the channel suggested, when Kurt had just about finished eating. "I mean, I know the overall functioning of an out-Territory Center in theory, but there must be problems and procedures peculiar to Innsfrey and I'd like to learn about them firsthand."
"Sure thing." Kurt drained his mug of tea and got to his feet, cheerfully crunching on the last crust of toast.
Just having him nearby soothed the channel's nerves immensely, the Gen's solid nager a reassuring bulwark against the inroads of approaching need. His field wasn't quite as high as V'lissia's, but it had a disciplined control the other Donor lacked. Maybe because Kurt was ambrov Rymal? The House of Rymal might not be as well-known as Zeor, but Frevven had read a lot about their history and they were interesting folks. Their founder, Deke McNairn, had been a junct channel who'd spent most of his life as a Raider, capturing out-Territory Gens for his own use and to sell to other Simes.
Uncomfortable, Frevven pushed all thought of Raiders from his mind, concentrating instead on Kurt. Knowing the young man was to be his Donor this month filled him with an unaccustomed sense of expectation. Many of his Donors had been complete strangers right up until the time they'd walked into the transfer suite to serve him. It was much more pleasant to get to know your assigned partner ahead of time.
Leaving the dining hall, Kurt led the channel down the stairway and through the small reception area, closed at this early hour of the morning. As they went by, he pointed out the small room used for collecting selyn from local Gens.
"On a good day," Kurt said with an apologetic smile, "you'll be lucky if even ten general class donors come in."
Frevven nodded. About what he'd figured, considering the population of the islands. That was nothing like his usual workload, but perhaps he could adjust to it. He hadn't done any channel's functionals in several days now, and he was holding up pretty well. He was scheduled to cover the morning shift tomorrow, so he'd soon find out exactly what to expect.
Passing the small library and administrative offices, Kurt indicated a spiral stairway next to a door. "The back door leads out to the boat, but this is how you get to the lookout tower. Come on up and see what it looks like from the top."
Frevven followed Kurt up the narrow stairway, half expecting the Gen to trip on the awkward, wedge-shaped steps. After a considerable climb, they came out into an octagonal room, with large windows in each wall. Frevven was quite sure the view would have been spectacular, had he been able to see it clearly.
Kurt's nager shifted subtly, taking into account the presence of another Sime in the small room. "Hi, Anieva. What are you doing here? Hasn't the captain of the Morning Star got better things to do than stand watch?"
"It's better for morale if I take a turn now and then," Anieva replied, with a negligent flick of two graceful dorsal tentacles. "My relief will be here any minute. We're somewhat short-handed these days, and the Gens hate to sit up here in the tower at night. Gets too cold."
The Sime's black hair was cut short, barely reaching her ears, and her skin was tanned as darkly as many of the islanders. Judging by Kurt's last remark, she was the captain of the Center's rescue boat.
"You're Hajene Aylmeer, aren't you?" Anieva said to Frevven. Then she waved one hand, gesturing with all four handling tentacles at the vista surrounding them. The sun was climbing the sky above the low hills behind the town, and the clouds had thinned out into wispy strips, blowing away in the wind.
"Nice, isn't it? Looks as if we'll have good weather today, so we may get to finish painting the cabintops of the Morning Star." She pointed down, where a long pier jutted out from the building, running over a strip of beach and then on into the deeper water. Tied to the T-shaped end of the pier, the Center's cutter bobbed on the waves, seeming more like a child's toy at this distance than a thirty-foot sailboat.
Frevven couldn't see clearly, but he assumed the smudges of bright color moving out along the pier to the boat must be the painting crew. He could have verified his guess by zlinning, but he didn't feel it was worth the effort.
"There's always someone up here on watch," Kurt explained, "keeping an eye out for a distress signal from any of the other islands." He pointed beyond the curving sand spit at the edge of the harbor to a smudge of land. "That's Beach Plum Island. It's the only one we can actually see from here."
Frevven couldn't see it, but he nodded anyway. He knew it was there.
With a grin towards Anieva, Kurt swung slowly around in a circle, pointing in various directions out across the low wooded hills behind the town. "Westerly's there, Arendell's there, and Montello is there."
Anieva pointed a fraction to the Gen's right. "Actually, Montello Island is there," she corrected, her Sime sense of exact position in the universe unerringly accurate.
Kurt continued with his explanation, undaunted. "If a child goes into changeover, the police lock the child in a special basement cell and send for us. That's pretty much standard procedure, out-Territory, but here things are complicated by our having to get to the other islands. One green flare summons us to Beach Plum, two means Westerly, and so on. After that, it's up to us to get there in time to save the youngster. The Morning Star's a fast cutter, and Anieva's a terrific captain, but we don't always make it. Sometimes, parents wait too long." A shadow crossed Kurt's face, and his nager darkened. "Sometimes they murder the child without even trying to call us."
Frevven looked away, thinking of Emerett.
"We reach seventy percent of the children in time," Anieva said proudly, "if we once get the signal. However, when visibility is poor, like in fog or rain, we have to rely on gunshots and sirens to summon the boat. The message doesn't always get through."
Frevven nodded his understanding, gazing blankly out over the water as the distances involved in the Center's rescue efforts soaked into his mind. He had known about it intellectually, but here, from the top of the tower, it somehow seemed more real. He only half-heard Anieva's voice as she asked Kurt a question.
"What happened at the hearing? Do you think we'll get permission for a rowboat?"
Kurt shook his head. "Hard to say. At first it looked as if Shanneh's proposal was going to pass, but now I'm not so sure. Reverend Richt showed up at the last minute and gave a very persuasive argument against it. The fact that he'd come directly from burying Raoul Manteo had considerable dramatic impact. The Town Council's meeting today to vote on it."
Frevven's interest came back to the discussion at hand when he heard Richt's name mentioned. He wasn't entirely certain why the Center would want a rowboat, but it made him uncomfortable to think that he might have contributed to their not being allowed to have it.
Anieva frowned, resting one slender hand on the brass railing that circled the little room just beneath the windows. Frevven noticed the Householding crest on the ring she wore, but he had to zlin in order to make it out clearly. It showed the silhouette of a schooner, exquisitely detailed.
"House of Shaeldor, isn't it?" he inquired respectfully, glad of a chance to change the subject under discussion.
"Yes." Anieva regarded him with new interest. Few people would recognize the crest of such a relatively small Householding, even those who were Householders themselves. "Most of my crew are ambrov Shaeldor also. Shaeldor's specialty is everything nautical. Our House owns most of the cargo schooners that run along the coast, and we're conducting negotiations with the Gen government to allow us to expand to several out-Territory ports as well. We're hoping to be allowed to dock in Easthaven someday, instead of having to sail all the way to Danversport before we can land."
"They'll never go for it."
Anieva shrugged. "Who can tell? Times are changing, after all. It's been twenty-one years since Unity. Even ten years ago, who'd have thought there'd be a Sime Center on Innsfrey?"
"True," Frevven conceded. "But out-Territory Gens are still out-Territory Gens. You can't expect too much from them."
Kurt and Anieva shared a long look.
"Never be too sure what you can expect from a Gen, Hajene, out-Territory or otherwise," said Anieva at last.
Kurt chuckled softly to himself as they went back down the spiral staircase, leaving Anieva to resume her vigil.
Back on the ground floor, Kurt pushed open one of several doors opening off the short hall just beyond the reception room. "This is your office. You'll find everything set up according to Tecton regulations, all the forms and manuals in the proper drawers."
Frevven nodded, taking in the neat room. Tecton standard it might be, but the panel of stained glass above the window gave it more character than the usual channel's office. This building couldn't have been meant to be a Sime Center originally, he reflected. It was simply too old. Besides, the Tecton would never waste money on stained glass decorations such as the ones that adorned many of the rooms in the Innsfrey Center.
He walked around the room. It was cold, the fire having burned down to embers, but there was a neat stack of wood waiting next to the hearth. The selyn insulation in the interior walls was good; the ambient of the Center was damped down to practically nothing. All in all, it seemed like a comfortable office.
Frevven was about to tell Kurt how pleased he was when Shanneh came barging through the door, flaring badly concealed fury.
"Look at this!" she exclaimed, shoving an official-looking sheet of paper into his hands.
Hajene Shanneh Tibbetts
Controller, Innsfrey Island Sime Center
This is to inform you that the proposal you presented to the Town Council has been turned down. In light of the recent killing of Raoul Manteo by a Sime not wearing retainers, we do not believe it would be in our best interests to allow your Center to operate a rowboat crewed by similarly unretainered Simes.
"This is your fault," Shanneh stated flatly as Frevven handed the paper back to her with a perplexed frown.
"Shanneh, that's not fair." As he spoke, Kurt deftly modulated his nager so that it would have a calming effect on the angry channel. "The Town Council might have turned down the request anyway. Haskell Snow's none too fond of Simes. I was there for the public meeting, remember, and Reverend Richt made a pretty convincing speech. He'd have done that regardless of what had happened with Emerett, and he might just as easily have been believed."
"Maybe so," Shanneh admitted grudgingly as her temper began to cool. Despite her words, it was apparent that she didn't think so.
Frevven didn't think so either, but he didn't really see what all the fuss was about. "Why do you want a rowboat? What's wrong with the Morning Star? It's bigger and faster than a rowboat."
"Sure. When the wind blows." Shanneh's nager showed a combination of pity and annoyance at his ignorance.
She wilted into a chair, covering her eyes with one hand and rubbing her forehead with several tentacles. For a brief moment, Frevven felt the tension she was trying to hide, the grating anxiety of fast-approaching need underlying her more obvious emotions.
Of course! he thought. Shanneh's next transfer is less than a week away. No wonder she's overreacting to the Town Council's decision.
Just because he prided himself on never letting the depression and anxiety of need bother him so soon in his monthly cycle didn't mean other channels could control themselves as well, especially if they were only Seconds like himself and Shanneh. Frevven congratulated himself that he could conceal it better than that. After all, the other channel was only two days ahead of him in her transfer cycle. He wasn't much further from need than she was, and he wasn't letting it show.
And then he felt guilty for being so smug. So he could hide it better than she could, so what? He'd always been able to hide his feelings from other people, even as a child. It might be harder now, but it wasn't that much harder.
He'd have to be a little more understanding of her disappointment, now that he understood. The Council's refusal was certainly a political setback, but it wasn't such a catastrophe as the other channel seemed to believe. It was easy to exaggerate the slightest little thing into a major disaster, once you began slipping into need.
"I'm sure it'll be all right. Would you like me to call your Donor? V'lis could make you feel better," he offered.
Shanneh looked up at him, her lips twisted into an ironic smile. "I know what you're thinking. But you'll understand soon enough, believe me. The rowboat would have made a difference, and now we've lost it." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "You'll see." Then she brightened up. "But I'll be gone by then, and you'll be the new controller." Shanneh gave a short, bitter laugh. "Sure. Get V'lissia for me. That'll solve everything, won't it?"
On the following morning, the wind moaned in from the sea, tossing an occasional handful of sleet rattling against the glass of Frevven's office window. The foghorn on the tip of Sandy Point ceaselessly cried out its warning to passing ships, its double blast audible throughout the town. The mournful howl reminded Frevven of what Anieva had said about not being able to see distress signals from the other islands in poor visibility, and he fretted over that, hoping there would be no changeovers until the storm cleared.
No one came in to donate on Frevven's shift, but that wasn't surprising, considering the weather. Frevven stared at the silver medallion he had found in his pocket, an unwelcome reminder of Emerett's death. He was familiar with most religious symbols, but this was something new. The strangely crooked design suggested a vague menace, but he couldn't quite tell what it was. No one he'd asked had recognized the design, but he was sure there was some meaning to it.
He picked it up, and the broken chain came loose, slithering into a tangle on top of the half-completed report of the circumstances surrounding the boy's death.
The Gen receptionist appeared at the door to Frevven's office. "Someone here to see you, Hajene."
"Shanneh's on duty now. I was on this morning," Frevven reminded him, slightly envious of the other channel for having an opportunity to do something.
"I know. But this one's asking for you personally. He doesn't want to see Shanneh."
"It's Lem Cabrell."
Frevven slipped Emerett's medallion hastily into the pocket of his tunic. "I'll be right there."
The receptionist gave a short nod and went back to his desk, as Frevven got to his feet.
What was Lem doing here?
Frevven shrugged as he entered the reception area. Expecting sense from out-Territory Gens was like expecting a general class donor to be able to serve a channel in personal transfer.
Lem stood reading an instruction poster on the wall of the reception area just inside the Center's main entrance. One arm rested around his daughter's shoulders, but even so, Janni seemed ready to bolt for the door, shifting from one foot to the other as she clung to her father's hand.
Frevven cleared his throat and the two of them swung around to face him. "What could I do for you, Mr. Cabrell?" he asked carefully in English.
"Mr.-er-Hajene Aylmeer," Lem replied, crossing the room and hesitantly extending one hand, "I came to- I mean, I want-" Recalling belatedly that Simes don't shake hands, he let his hand fall to his side. "You were kind to me at my nephew's grave," he began again. "I want to do something in return."
Ah, I see!
"You're here to donate selyn?"
Lem nodded. Janni huddled against him. "Daddy, I want to go home," she whispered.
Frevven turned his attention to the girl. Even without a full lateral examination, he could tell she was still a child. There were absolutely no indications that her body had begun to produce selyn. Changeover would be virtually impossible to detect until its actual onset, so there was no sense examining her for that.
"Your daughter hasn't established as a Gen yet," Frevven said. "How old is she?"
"I'm thirteen," Janni replied defiantly. "And I'm gonna be Gen. Just wait."
Frevven nodded noncommittally. He'd heard those words before. He'd even said them himself.
Lem's nager wilted slightly as he digested the news about his daughter. "I had hoped- Well, never mind." His plain, weather-beaten face split into a grin. "I still want to donate."
Sick fear, overlaid by grim determination. This Gen could be a problem.
"Very well. Come with me," Frevven said, turning to the open door of the adjoining room. "Janni, you can wait here-"
The girl only clung more tightly to her father.
Frevven stood in the entranceway, observing them. "-Or you can come with us and watch," he amended.
The receptionist's head whipped around quickly. "That's not regulation procedure," he began, but Frevven shushed him with a peremptory gesture of two handling tentacles.
He was able to persuade Janni to perch on a stool in the corner, well out of the way, while he filled out the standard history sheet, querying Lem with the interminable list of routine questions. He could have had the receptionist do all that, but Lem had asked to see him, so it might put the Gen more at ease to speak with Frevven instead. For Janni's sake as well as her father's, he went on to explain everything he was going to do, answered any questions, and reassured Lem that he would feel nothing.
By the time they got to the actual donation, Lem had managed to relax a bit. Somewhat self-consciously, he stretched out on the contoured transfer lounge against the far wall, his long legs almost hanging over the edge. Frevven took his place beside him on the lounge, sitting so that he could easily take Lem's hands in his, while Lem reclined comfortably.
So far so good. The Gen was scared, but he was keeping it under control. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Frevven grasped Lem's forearms with his fingers halfway up to the Gen's elbows, using his handling tentacles to secure his grip. He let himself go into channel's functional mode, his secondary system aching for the chance to do something at last. His laterals extended eagerly, wet with ronaplin, finding the proper contact points on Lem's arms.
Lem seemed to be taking this all right, so Frevven leaned forward to make the necessary fifth contact. He touched his lips to Lem's and began drawing selyn into his secondary system, alert for any problems that might develop. He drew slowly and smoothly, not wanting the least disturbance to awaken any sensation at all in the Gen. The selyn wasn't much, but it tingled pleasantly as it flowed into his too-long-unused secondary system. Frevven almost sighed with relief.
Lem's barely controlled fear bloomed into sudden terror. Instinctively, he tried to pull his arms away from Frevven, but the channel's handling tentacles held him securely. Lem's internal barriers crashed down, even on the most superficial levels of selyn storage.
Frevven wrenched himself out of the transfer, breaking lip contact although he continued to keep his grip on Lem's arms. His laterals could be damaged if Lem moved away too quickly. The channel reeled with the abrupt cutoff of selyn in mid-flow, desperately trying to smooth the imbalances before they could develop far enough to send him into convulsions. The shock of interrupted transfer-termed "shen" in Simelan-could vary considerably in severity and extent. This was relatively mild, since it involved a donation, rather than his own personal transfer.
Nevertheless, it was bad enough.
"Easy, Lem. You're all right. You know you're all right. Think about it," Frevven said through clenched teeth.
He considered giving up on the whole thing. Lem was just too scared. Maybe he should dismantle the contact and refuse the donation. However, the Gen made no further attempt to pull away, although his arms under Frevven's tentacles were tensed to the point of trembling. He took a deep breath and exhaled shakily.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. You're right. I'm perfectly okay and you didn't hurt me in the least."
Frevven nodded, hoping he didn't look as shaken as he felt. His eyes met Lem's. At such close range, he could see the web of tiny wrinkles at the corner of the Gen's black eyes.
Lem blinked and swallowed. His nager smoothed somewhat, but he was still far from calm. "Try it again," he suggested in a hoarse whisper.
Frevven leaned forward to resume lip contact, wondering whether or not he was doing the right thing. But if he let Lem get up and walk away, he was certain the man would never be able to summon the courage to return. Somehow, Frevven was reluctant to lose Lem as a donor. It was tremendously important to show this particular Gen that he had nothing to fear.
Frevven tried again, with painstaking care this time. The Gen's barriers had lowered, but they hovered dangerously. The slightest sensation, the least discomfort, and they would slam closed once more. Slowly, carefully, Frevven drained only the GN3 level, the most superficial. Maybe another time, he could go deeper. For now, this would be enough.
Lem managed to cooperate better this time, but he was still blatantly afraid. It was difficult for Frevven to ignore the pervasive sense of Gen fear and go on drawing slowly. It tempted him to reach for more, to force that fear to bloom into terror, to take what could be had all too easily. To kill.
But despite his jangling awareness of Lem's fright, Frevven certainly wasn't going to give in to that temptation now, for a general class donor whose entire store of selyn would be a drop in the bucket compared to what Frevven craved, compared to what Kurt would provide for him, in just another week.
In objective time, the entire donation was over in less than a minute. When Frevven let him go, Lem stood up from the transfer couch carefully, as if he expected to keel over.
"Okay?" Frevven asked. He could zlin that Lem was fine, but it usually reassured a Gen to have that question asked.
"Nothing to it," Lem stated, grinning at his daughter. "Everyone told me it would be unpleasant, but I didn't feel anything at all."
"Most Gens don't." Frevven got to his feet and went over to the counter, his attention still on Lem but not wanting to be obvious about it. He turned his back, wiping the beaded sweat from his forehead and ostentatiously shuffling papers on the counter top. He felt momentarily light-headed, but he was sure that would pass. Still leaning against the counter, he turned to face the others again.
Lem brushed non-existent dust off his faded shirt and straightened his clothes, relief permeating his considerably dimmed field. Then the relief slid into shame and embarrassment.
"Uh-do I get-? I mean, this month I'm having a little trouble making ends meet. The Anna Marie, the boat I usually work on, is hauled out for repairs. I been doing odd jobs at the fish-packing plant, but that don't amount to much. Perhaps-?"
"Oh, of course. I'll tell the receptionist to be sure you receive the usual fee for donating."
Lem shifted from one foot to the other, not meeting Frevven's eyes. "I hate to take money. Seems so mercenary somehow. But since my wife died and left me and Janni alone, things just haven't been going so good." He looked up. "That wasn't why I came, Hajene."
So many Gens only bothered to donate because of the money offered, and Lem felt ashamed to take it.
Frevven tried for a friendly smile, although he was still leaning on the counter to keep his knees from shaking. Just as soon as Lem was gone, he'd have to find Kurt, get his help to repair some of the damage that aborted donation had caused. But he didn't want Lem to see that. "I know it wasn't. You're entitled to reimbursement. Don't worry about it." He scribbled figures on Lem's chart, recording the details of the donation in abbreviated Simelan.
Janni's eyes followed Frevven as he wrote, turned a page, pushed his hair out of his eyes and readjusted his glasses on his nose, all at the same time.
"Don't they ever get-well, you know-tangled?" she asked in a small voice.
"What?" Frevven looked up, surprised. He glanced over at the child, then followed her gaze back to his tentacles. "Oh, I see. No, not really. Do your fingers get tangled?"
"Well, no," Janni admitted, then added brightly, "But my feet do, sometimes."
Lem laughed and clapped his daughter on the back. She favored him with a vibrant smile that transformed her pinched face with the promise of grown-up beauty yet to be.
"I'll be back next month, Hajene," Lem stated as they all walked out into the reception room. "And someday my daughter will come with me for her first donation."
Looking at the shadow that crossed Janni's face at her father's remark, Frevven had to stop himself from wincing.
"I look forward to seeing you both," he said, as cheerfully as possible. "But, just in case, perhaps you'd consider sending Janni to our changeover class? A new one just began yesterday, so she hasn't missed a lot. It's only wise to teach her about such things, now that she's growing up."
Janni shook her head violently. "No. My friends would laugh and call me a Sime-lover." She turned away, holding her father's hand and almost dragging him toward the door.
Barely a quarter of Innsfrey's youngsters ever attended a changeover class, and that wasn't taking into account the children on the other Out-Islands. The only classes were at the Center, and Frevven knew it would be a source of shame and embarrassment simply to be seen coming in the door. But how were they to reach the children, if the children wouldn't come? Teaching about changeover was forbidden in the local schools.
Wait a minute, if she wouldn't come to class, maybe there was another possibility.
"I could lend you a book. Come into the library for a second. I think I can find something you'll like." Frevven hustled them around the desk where the receptionist sat, down a short corridor, and into the Center's library. He really wanted nothing more than to let them go and call Kurt, but it was worth the extra effort if he could persuade Janni to learn something about changeover.
A fire crackled on the hearth, and books lay scattered around a battered wooden table. Frevven scanned the shelves for what he wanted. He pulled out a slim volume, nodding to himself as he read the title. Sime or Gen? What Every Child Should Know About Growing Up, by Chaynek Vorlek and Kavaney Farris.
Chaynek Vorlek. Frevven frowned at the man's name, not wanting to remember him. But this was one of the best books written about the subject for out-Territory children, regardless of Frevven's personal antipathy for one of the authors.
He held out the colorfully bound volume to Janni, willing her to take it. The girl stood motionless, but Lem reached for the book, not even flinching as a finger brushed one of Frevven's handling tentacles.
"She'll read it. And so will I. Perhaps I can convince her she wants to come to your class, after all."
Janni fidgeted, one hand resting against her chest, seeming to be fingering an object beneath the fabric of her blouse. Her lips moved slightly, forming silent words.
Frevven's eyes narrowed. An amulet, on a short chain, would hang just about under Janni's hand. Reaching into his pocket, he placed Emerett's medallion on the table directly before the girl. She drew back with a gasp.
"Interesting, isn't it?" he remarked casually. "I found it the other day, but I have no idea what it stands for."
Lem registered surprise, but Frevven was trying his best to zlin Janni. A child's nager was difficult, if not impossible, to read accurately, but she seemed quite shocked.
"It's the symbol of the Salvation Church. Lots of kids wear one," Lem said, glancing significantly at his daughter.
"It protects us," she said faintly.
"Why, from changeover, of course! What else?"
"This is going to prevent you from becoming a Sime?" Frevven asked incredulously.
"Yes. If you pray, and believe, and do as the Church says."
"That's ridiculous," Frevven retorted. But a timorous voice echoed down the years, reciting the phrase he himself had repeated fervently every night at the end of his bedtime prayers, "And please, dear God, don't let me be a Sime."
He shook his head, dismissing the recollection as he met the resentment in Janni's eyes.
"Show him the proper way to draw it, honey." Lem pointed to the blackboard against one wall. The library also doubled as classroom, since space was limited.
Reluctantly, Janni went to the blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk. She sketched a heavy circle, then searched among the colored bits of chalk on the sill, finally choosing an orange piece. "You don't have red," she complained. "In church school, we have red." Inside the circle, she drew what appeared to be a simplistic version of a lightning bolt-long slanted vertical going down from the top right-hand corner, short horizontal, long vertical again. Then she took up the white chalk, drawing in a diagonal slash, intercepting and covering the almost horizontal portion of the lightning bolt. It seemed a strange way to draw the design, involving some rather unnecessary duplication of effort.
"You always make it just like that?"
"Yes. That's the proper way."
"Draw me another one."
Watching Janni's small fingers repeat the design precisely in that same sequence, a thought occurred to the channel. What if that red lightning bolt wasn't meant to be a lightning bolt at all? It could be a stiffly pointed letter S, couldn't it? It just might make sense to draw it that way, trapped inside the circle, with the final diagonal crossing out and cancelling the stylized letter. And somehow he doubted that the red S stood for the Salvation in Salvation Church. It could just as easily mean Sime. Or was he just being paranoid?
"Shall I make more of them?" Janni asked grudgingly.
"No, thank you. That's fine."
"Come on, honey. Let's go. We've taken up enough of the man's time already," Lem said. "Thanks for the book, Hajene Aylmeer."
"Frevven," the channel replied, his mind elsewhere. "Please call me Frevven."
After seeing the two of them out the door, Frevven returned to the library, meaning to erase the blackboard. He stared at it for quite some time before he could bring himself to do so, however. He kept seeing Janni's innocent fingers coloring that harsh diagonal line, deftly slashing across the pointed S.
The Salvation Church. Could that be the same as the Church of Salvation Through Faith? He recalled reading something about a new sect of the Church of the Purity with a name like that, but he hadn't thought that it had spread to this area yet, although it did seem to be gaining a lot of its adherents in just such isolated places as this.
Would this be Clarendon Richt's church?
Taking up the eraser, Frevven angrily wiped out the symbols. Shen them, anyway! Dratted Gens and their ridiculous religions! He wanted nothing to do with such nonsense.
(And the words rang through his mind, the minister's sonorous voice filling the ornate building that housed Chilton Lake's faithful congregation: "The Sime mutation is a curse from God! Our only hope of redemption is to destroy the vile creatures!")
Frevven tossed the eraser across the room. It made a dull thunk as it hit the far wall, scattering a puff of chalk dust on the flowered wallpaper. But it did not silence the voice haunting Frevven's head, or erase the image of his sister standing next to him, tall and confident, her hand on his shoulder and fervent belief in her eyes.
Proceed to chapter four