ONLY GOOD SIME
BY KERRY LINDEMANN-SCHAEFER
"Not one donor! In an entire week, no one has come in. This never happened while Shanneh was here. I just don't believe it." V'lissia ripped open another piece of mail, glanced over the letter, and dumped it unceremoniously into the wastebasket next to the desk.
Frevven slumped down into one of the chairs in the empty reception room. Ever since Richt had made his disjunct status public, the local Gens seemed to be avoiding the Center like the plague. He was in no mood this morning for V'lissia's complaints. With no GN donors, all he'd had to do in the past week was provide transfer for two of the renSimes on his staff. That wasn't nearly enough to prevent entran. Twice already he'd had to ask V'lis to do an entran out-function, restoring him to a reasonable semblance of stability. His head throbbed with a dull ache that threatened to get worse, and his eyes burned and itched just from the glare coming through the Center's windows from the late morning sun.
V'lis changed her tack, seeing the look on Frevven's face. "Lem Cabrell stopped by yesterday to say he was trying to persuade some of his friends to donate, so maybe someone will come in today."
Frevven raised an eyebrow. That was a new development. Maybe it would have some effect. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed his stinging eyes.
V'lis ripped open another envelope, scanned the contents absently. Then she flared outrage.
"Shen and shid, look at this!" She held out a long sheet of paper.
"Read it for me, will you?" He was unwilling to replace his glasses immediately. It felt so much better to keep his eyes closed.
"`Treacherous, murdering Simes, we want no part of your evil Center,'" she read acidly. "`You are cursed, and all those who help you are cursed. We pledge never again to donate our life energy for your use. Go back to your own territory and cease to afflict us with your loathsome presence.'" Her eyes ran rapidly down the long list of signatures. "This is signed by at least a hundred people! And I recognize some of them as regular donors."
He covered his eyes with his hand and groaned, just as the Center's alarm bell began ringing.
Jumping up from the chair, Frevven grabbed V'lissia's arm and hustled her out to the Morning Star. As they raced down the pier together, a single green flare hung blazing in the bright sky over the harbor.
Changeover. Beach Plum Island.
Anieva took her place at the wheel, giving orders for the crew to cast off from the dock. As the cutter crawled slowly forward, Frevven glanced out over the water in the direction of Beach Plum Island. It was clearly visible to most people just beyond the low-lying spit of Sandy Point, but to him it was a very faint glimmer in the ambient, almost beyond zlinning range.
Anieva looked up to the little flag hanging at the masthead. It fluttered once and fell limp. She shook her head. There was hardly any wind. Beach Plum might be the closest of the four Out-Islands, but that wouldn't matter if they couldn't get there.
The mainsail caught a breeze, filled, and drove the boat a short distance, but it wasn't enough to keep them going for long. Although Anieva took advantage of every puff of wind, it was soon apparent that they were getting nowhere.
Frevven paced back and forth across the narrow deck, one of Kurt's peaked caps pulled low on his forehead to shield his sensitive eyes. He swore softly, watching the sails again fall slack.
He closed his eyes against the sunlight and frustration. They weren't moving fast enough, ghosting along on the light breeze. He could swim faster than this. No, that was silly. It just seemed that way. But he could have rowed faster.
The ambient on the little sailboat shifted, brightness moving his way. V'lis came up from belowdecks hugging a blanket around her shoulders over her winter coat and shivering nonetheless. She came to stand alongside the channel, one hand closing gently over Frevven's clenched fist around the rough hemp of the lifeline. Comfort and warmth surrounded him, and Frevven realized how tense he had let himself become.
"You can't do anything yet," she said, so softly that no one else could hear. "Wait."
"V'lis, if we'd been allowed to have a rowboat, as Shanneh had proposed-"
"Don't. The Town Council might have turned down her request anyway. It isn't your fault."
Oh, yes, it is, Frevven told himself grimly, understanding now why Shanneh had been so upset. Oh, yes, it is.
V'lis adjusted her nager to project calm reassurance and comfort. She picked up his cape and draped it solicitously over his shoulders. Frevven knew she was only trying to help, but on some level her attitude irritated him. How could she seem so damned smug and sure of herself? Kurt never affected him that way. His nager had a different texture to it, something Frevven found much less annoying. If only Kurt were here, instead of V'lis.
But Kurt is teaching a changeover class on Westerly Island today. Besides, V'lis is your Donor this month. Stop being so silly.
He went back to cursing himself for ruining their chances at having a rowboat.
"Ahoy! Morning Star!" a voice called across the water.
Frevven spun around. Engulfed by V'lis' field, he hadn't noticed Lem Cabrell rowing towards the cutter in a small dory.
The crew watched in open-mouthed amazement as the trim little boat glided to a halt alongside. It was totally unheard of for any of the local fisherfolk to approach the Morning Star. Most boats avoided it by as wide a margin as possible, knowing there were Simes on board not wearing retainers.
"Frevven? You there?" Lem called uncertainly, squinting up into the bright sunlight.
Frevven went to the rail and leaned over. Seeing the channel, Lem grabbed the edge of a porthole and pulled his dory closer. "Well, don't just stand there staring!" the Gen declared. "Come aboard."
"Come aboard, I said." Lem gestured with his free hand to the narrow seat in the sharply pointed stern of the boat. "I'll take you to Beach Plum Island. That's where you're headed, isn't it?"
Although the man sounded confident, Frevven could zlin tense anxiety underlying the unruffled surface of his nager.
He considered Lem's unprecedented offer. Once he left the Morning Star, he would be required to wear his retainers, but there was no law prohibiting a Sime from going in a boat with a Gen, at the Gen's invitation.
"You'll row me over?"
Lem nodded tensely. "Unless you'd rather drift back and forth all day, until that kid out there is beyond help?"
Frevven didn't answer right away. He looked down once at the fragile-seeming dory, and then over to the distant nageric glow of Beach Plum Island.
"I can make it," Lem said. "It'll be a long haul, but the tide's going out, so that'll help some."
Pulling the peak of his cap lower over his eyes, Frevven turned to one of the crew. "Get my retainers, and a medical kit."
"You're not going with him, are you?" V'lissia objected.
"I certainly am."
"Then I'm going too," she declared, helping Frevven fit the retainers onto his forearms.
"This is a pretty small dory," Lem said doubtfully. "If I have to take you both, it'll slow me down."
"You're staying here." Frevven picked up the small case of medical supplies and handed it over the side to Lem.
"You might require my help, as an Escort, if nothing more."
V'lissia was moderately high field, it being just over three weeks since her transfer with Shanneh. Her presence would be comforting, if he had to face hostile out-Territory Gens.
Comforting, yes, but not absolutely necessary.
"I can handle a simple changeover by myself. Right now, saving time is more important than having you with me."
V'lissia smoldered insult as Frevven climbed over the rail and into the stern of the dory. Lem shoved the bow clear of the cutter, lowered his oars into the water, and began to row.
With a following tide, the little boat moved quickly across the bay, leaving the becalmed cutter far behind. Before long, they had passed the old lighthouse on Sandy Point and were pulling across the expanse of open ocean between Innsfrey and Beach Plum.
Frevven clutched either side of the boat so hard his fingers began to ache, willing it to move faster. Lem's underlying anxiety eased off as he concentrated on the physical act of rowing.
As Beach Plum Island drew nearer, Frevven cautioned himself against getting his hopes up. They were making good time, but that didn't guarantee anything. It could be too late already.
"Hajene Aylmeer! Hajene Aylmeer!"
Frevven heard the child's shrill voice long before he could see her clearly or zlin her faint nager. He looked questioningly at Lem, who glanced over his shoulder at the shore.
"Looks like Flora Veara," he said shortly.
As they pulled up alongside the dock, Frevven saw Flora waiting impatiently next to a uniformed policewoman. She ran over to the channel as he climbed out of the dory.
"You've got to help Lisha, Hajene Aylmeer! You've got to!"
Frevven glanced at the policewoman. She said nothing, merely turning on her heel and hurrying toward the jail. Frevven started after her, with Flora running at his elbow.
"She didn't want to come with me, Hajene. I made her. She wanted to turn herself in to the Watchkeepers." Flora's face contorted into a grimace which might have been fear or hatred. "But Willie went to them, and he's dead. You can save my cousin, can't you?"
They were at the jail now. The policewoman tossed Frevven a key and pointed at the locked basement door.
"I'll do my best for her, Flora. You wait here."
"No. I want to be with Lisha. You said if we came to you at changeover, we'd be okay. I want to see what happens."
"Flora, you can't-" the policewoman began.
Lem appeared in the doorway, breathing hard from running after them.
"I want to be with her!" Flora declared, clutching a handful of Frevven's cape. "I risked-" a shadow crossed her homely face, and she swallowed nervously, "-my eternal soul to bring Lisha here. I have the right to be with her."
There was no time to explain that any delay at this point only endangered her cousin further. Frevven snapped open the clasp holding his cape, leaving Flora with nothing in her hand but fabric. He headed for the door to the basement.
"Hajene Aylmeer," Flora said, her voice soft but accusing, "I trusted you."
Frevven looked back at the determined young girl, knowing full well what it had cost her to bring her cousin here. He could walk away from her, explain why later on. She'd see Lisha when it was all over. That would be enough.
At that age, would that have been enough for you?
"Very well then, come along," Frevven said with quick decision. Maybe if Flora witnessed a successful changeover, she would tell her friends. They might believe one of their own, where they wouldn't believe a Sime. It was worth a try.
"Hajene Tibbetts never allowed that," the policewoman objected, frowning. "It's against regulations."
"No, it isn't. It's been done before." Frevven didn't bother to mention that the Zeor channel he'd seen do it had been called on the carpet by his controller and reprimanded severely. It wasn't exactly against regulations, but it was a risk few channels would take. If anything went wrong-
Frevven unlocked the basement door and was about to start down the stairs when he became aware that Lem still stood in the doorway, his nager a muddled mess of confusion, fear, and curiosity. Frevven sighed. As well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, he decided.
"Lem, you want to see this too?"
Nodding once, the Gen took Flora's hand and followed the channel down to the basement.
"You'll have to stay outside the cell," Frevven cautioned, turning the key in the lock on the barred door, "and no closer than the foot of the steps. Try to keep calm, or you'll disturb Lisha. Especially you, Lem. Understand?"
Without waiting for a reply, he locked himself in, stripped off his retainers, and hurried across the small cell to the crumpled figure on the bunk.
Lisha sprawled limply across the mattress, eyes closed. She wasn't entirely unconscious, but she was withdrawn into her own frightening feelings, oblivious to the rest of the world. Her eyes were tightly closed, her hands clenched into fists against her chest. The developing tentacle sheaths stood out in white streaks against her skinny arms, already swollen with fluid. Changeover, stage seven. He was just barely in time.
"How long has she been like this?" Frevven called over his shoulder to Flora.
"It wasn't really bad until about an hour ago. That's when I brought her in. I stayed overnight, like I usually do when my uncle's out fishing. When she woke up this morning, I thought she was just sick."
Since morning? That's all? Too short a time for her to be in such an advanced stage of changeover. It should have taken a day, at least. Unless-?
No. There hadn't been a channel from the Out-Islands in the entire history of the Center. But that would explain the rapid changeover. It usually happened faster for a channel.
Frevven leaned closer to the girl. It didn't surprise him at all to notice the familiar silver medallion hanging at her throat. In fact, he'd have been surprised if it hadn't been there.
Setting his medical kit alongside the bunk, he took hold of Lisha's arms gently, letting his own laterals extend to lie over her developing lateral sheaths. The reading was unmistakable. The girl had the secondary system of a channel, still immature, but definitely there.
He clamped his teeth on an automatic curse. A channel should have a Donor for First Transfer, not another channel. He should have brought V'lis along after all.
On second thought, maybe not. V'lis might be a trained Donor, but she was only Second Order and just three weeks past transfer. First Need could be tricky. If Lisha turned out to be a strong channel, there could be trouble. Donors had died trying to serve channels who overmatched them.
Just as Tomithy Marston died trying to serve you.
He pushed that thought aside.
"Will she-be all right?" Lem's voice, worried.
Good question, Frevven thought. He wasn't carrying a lot of selyn in his secondary system, since so few Gens had come in to donate. What if there wasn't enough to serve the girl?
Lisha groaned and tried to curl up into a ball, clenching her fists and clutching her arms tighter to her chest as the first of the breakout contractions began. Frevven tried to take her hands, but she screamed and pulled away. Then her eyes opened and she looked around wildly, suddenly becoming aware of her surroundings. She caught sight of Frevven's tentacles.
"No!" she shrieked, pulling herself into a sitting position and almost falling off the bunk as she did so. "What am I doing here? Leave me alone!"
Inwardly, Frevven groaned. There was no time to convince her to trust him, no time to properly prepare her for changeover. If she fought him off, she could do damage to herself.
"It's all right, Lish!" Flora shouted. "He can help you."
Lisha's eyes darted back and forth between her cousin and the channel. In her dimming field, Frevven saw a slight flicker of hope. "I-I know you."
"That's right. I examined you and your brother not long ago, right here in this cell."
"I don't want to kill."
"You won't. I can help you." There was no one there for you, no one to stop you from killing, an envious voice whispered in his head. Shut up, he replied soundlessly. There have been others since. He thrust the hatred away, concentrating only on his concern for the youngster.
Her black eyes locked with his. She would be sensing fields by now, would be able to zlin his caring and concern, if she could remain calm enough to understand all the new sensations flooding in on her.
What could he say to make her trust him?
Nothing, he decided. Words wouldn't do it. He shaped his showfield to resemble a high-field Gen's, at the last moment remembering his meeting with Lisha's family and trying to mimic the nageric texture of her father. Anything to reassure her. He did not have to mimic the very real compassion he felt for the girl, a channel in changeover, out-Territory.
Her eyes went out of focus as she reacted to his nageric manipulations. "Daddy?" Then she blinked, seeing the reality behind the image.
Frevven held out his hand, willing her to take it.
One trembling hand reached out to his, as the next breakout contraction overtook her.
Twice, she screamed and clutched his hands. And then it was over, her tentacles free.
Frevven caught the girl's extended laterals with his own in the Sime-Sime transfer grip. By now under the control of an instinct she couldn't deny, Lisha made lip contact herself.
She drew fast and smooth, taking a good portion of the selyn Frevven had available in his secondary system in one greedy swoop. Caught by surprise, he raised his resistance, hoping to slow her a bit and taper off the transfer before his secondary system could be depleted.
Instead of slowing down, Lisha reached frantically for more. He could have shenned the girl, cut her off abruptly, but he didn't want to. He had persuaded her to trust him; he couldn't hurt her like that now. Besides, such a thing might throw her into shock or damage her newly developed selyn transport nerves.
Gradually throttling down the speed, he let her continue to draw, even when his secondary system was depleted and she tried to pull selyn from his primary system. Searing pain burned up his arms and into his chest, but Lisha was backing off, her primary system almost full. Frevven hung on, letting her break off the transfer. She had been shorted, but she would survive.
As Frevven released the girl's laterals, Lisha just stared at him in amazement, blinking stupidly. "I didn't-kill anybody," she finally choked out.
"No. And you never will." Frevven smiled, trying to ignore the pain in his chest. Lisha was safe and well. That was what counted.
She stared at him. "I hurt you."
"Only a little. I'll be all right." Frevven stood up, walking carefully away from the youngster.
The ambient nager warmed with sudden sympathy and concern. Lem stood near the bars of the cell, his feelings the prime influence flooding the underground room. He seemed aware of Frevven's distress and was trying as best he could to help.
Frevven staggered to the door and unlocked it, gesturing for Lem and Flora to enter. Flora raced over to her cousin, but Lem stayed next to the channel.
"Am I doing this right?" he whispered.
Frevven just nodded. The tearing ache in his chest began to subside and the fire in his nerves died down. He took a deep breath and exhaled raggedly. Yes, that was much better.
Lisha looked at her cousin uncertainly. "Guess you were right about coming here." Tentatively, she held out a hand to the other girl, her tentacles still sticky with blood and ronaplin. With only the slightest hesitation, Flora took the offered hand.
Then Lisha was in her arms, crying against her shoulder and choking out incoherent words about her father and brother. Flora soothed her, promising to talk to them, tell them everything was all right.
"You won't hate me? Now that I'm-one of them?" Lisha said.
When the older girl shook her head vehemently, Lisha looked over at Frevven. "And you won't leave me alone with them, Flora, will you?"
Using Lem's field as a support, Frevven had smoothed out some of the damage Lisha's draw had done. He forced his lips into a strained smile. "Flora can stay with you as long as she wants. As soon as the Morning Star arrives, we'll take you back to the Center." Watching the two nervous youngsters, he added with sudden inspiration, "Then we can have a changeover party for you."
"Changeover party?" they both echoed, then giggled.
"Sure. Happens all the time, in-Territory."
"People actually celebrate a child's turning Sime?" Lem asked incredulously. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"You've heard of it now."
By the time the Morning Star reached Beach Plum, it was afternoon. And by the time they sailed back into Innsfrey Harbor, the sun was dropping towards the mainland on the western horizon. Lem's dory bobbed cheerfully along behind the cutter, since he had accepted Frevven's offer to return on board the sailboat.
As they moved slowly across the bay, they passed an incoming fishing schooner, carefully giving it a wide berth. Lem's nager darkened as he squinted at the schooner. So strong was his reaction that all the Simes turned to look at him.
"Mr. Cabrell," Flora asked, a puzzled frown on her face, "don't you usually work on that boat?"
"Uh-not exactly-I mean, I did, but I don't work on the Anna Marie anymore."
Lem scowled. "No. I was fired. The captain overheard me trying to persuade one of the crew to donate selyn. He said he didn't want any Sime-lovers on board."
"What will you do?"
Lem shrugged. "Work on one of the other boats, maybe." That was an obvious lie, told for the benefit of the youngsters. Lem didn't believe any of the other captains would hire him.
Frevven stared vaguely at the incoming schooner. It was old, the sails checkered with patches. Through the silent haze of the drug he'd taken in order to hold himself together until he reached the Center, he had an idea. "How about working for us? We'll lease your dory, until we can buy one of our own." At Anieva's puzzled look, he went on, "No law against our having a rowboat with a Gen crew, right? Wouldn't be able to row as fast as Simes without retainers, but it would be better than nothing, on windless days."
"Shenoni, you're right!" Anieva grinned. "Most of the Gens on our staff are landlubbers. Wouldn't know which end of an oar to grab."
"That's where Lem comes in. He could teach them, be in charge." Frevven looked at the Gen. "Maybe you could also help with the changeover classes? The kids might listen to you, where they wouldn't listen to our in-Territory staff."
Lem's suntanned face broke into a broad grin. "You've got yourself a deal."
When the news got out that Lisha Veara was the first channel to survive changeover on the Out-Islands, the Church's reaction was swift and nasty. Wearing hooded gray robes, an anonymous mob of Watchkeepers began appearing at the home of any citizen who still had the courage to come to the Center to donate, singing hymns and chanting anti-Sime slogans. Store windows were smashed and threats were scrawled in paint on buildings and walls.
Lem Cabrell arrived at the Center one morning bruised and bleeding from having been pelted with stones.
The local police shrugged their shoulders. After all, no one knew who was under the concealing gray robes. How could they be expected to arrest anyone?
Furious, Frevven refused to cancel any of his classes or child-zlinning clinics, but few people dared show up for either.
The Escort assigned to take Lisha back to the mainland was scheduled to arrive before the end of the week, so Frevven hoped the entire thing would die down once the girl was safely away. However, when Lisha's Escort arrived, she brought along with her a Third Order channel who had made the long trip exclusively to supply Frevven with selyn, since he was getting so few GN donors. While he couldn't pretend the extra selyn wasn't welcome, it was supposed to be the other way around, with out-Territory Centers sending surplus selyn in-Territory. The fact that they'd had to supply him this way was a bit of a disgrace.
That wasn't the worst of it. The Escort asked to speak with Frevven in private, to deliver a verbal message from the district controller.
Syritha Chanetti must have known her message would displease Frevven. Although she held her nager carefully neutral, the fingers of one hand played nervously with the hem of her tunic as she sat facing him across his desk.
"Hajene Aylmeer, Controller Shagoury instructed me to tell you that her office has received numerous complaints from the citizens of Innsfrey Island, specifically objecting to your presence here and also requesting that the Center be closed."
Frevven started to protest, but she raised her hand in a placating gesture.
"It hasn't yet reached the point where she'll pull you out against your will, but if you'd like to request re-assignment elsewhere, I think she'd be willing to find a more suitable-er-I mean, a different-channel to replace you."
"She'll send a non-junct channel to replace me," Frevven said bitterly. "Isn't that what you mean?"
Only a few days from need, Frevven found it difficult to view the controller's suggestion with equanimity. First Shagoury had sent him to this forsaken outpost, now the woman wanted him to come crawling home with his tail between his legs. But it wasn't only that.
"Sure, send a different channel, one who doesn't know what it's like to grow up out here," Frevven said bitterly. Someone who doesn't know what it feels like to be damned because he turned Sime, who never learned to hate himself for what he'd become. Send someone who can't possibly understand the shattered children this Center has been built to rescue.
He almost said as much to Syritha, then thought better of it. After all, was it truly necessary for a person to have done something himself before he could understand? Do you have to have memorized every verse of all the hymns in order to know the vicious hatred and bigotry behind the Church of the Purity?
Frevven leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. This close to need, it was easier to give in to despair than sustain his anger. Maybe the controller was right. Maybe he couldn't deal with this.
But Lem trusted him; Flora had brought him her cousin.
Small victories, amidst a host of defeats.
Frevven rose wearily to his feet. Give up and go home, you stubborn fool. You'd rather be in-Territory anyway, wouldn't you?
The stained glass window above his desk shattered with an explosive crash. Before the glass had even begun to fall, Frevven had pushed Syritha to the ground and thrown himself on top of her, instinctively protecting the Gen from danger.
Shards of brightly colored glass and bits of the lead backing tinkled down onto the wooden floor, as a rock thunked against the far wall and landed next to the fireplace.
As soon as the glass had stopped falling, Frevven picked himself up and helped Syritha to her feet. Old and brittle, most of the windowpane had shattered with the impact of the rock. Cold air blew in through the opening.
Picking up the rock, Frevven gave it a thoughtful toss and caught it again in the palm of his hand.
Richt was afraid. True, there hadn't been this much trouble from the Salvation Church while Shanneh had been running the Center, but that wasn't necessarily good. Richt had to perceive him as a threat, or he wouldn't be reacting so violently.
If another channel came, one who didn't really believe in the sort of power that could be wielded out-Territory by a charismatic preacher such as Clarendon Richt-
No, he couldn't leave. There was still too much for him to do here.
"Tell Hajene Shagoury that she assigned me to Innsfrey, and I'll stay on Innsfrey unless she orders me elsewhere. This is my assignment, and I intend to handle it."
"Do you think that's wise, Hajene Aylmeer?" Syritha suggested. She picked up a large chunk of jagged blue glass and held it up to catch the light. "Under the circumstances?"
Frevven tossed the rock again, then plunked it decisively down onto his desk.
"It may not be wise. But I'm staying."
Proceed to chapter eight