The blizzard began that night and continued for most of the following day, driven by a piercing wind from the northeast. Dry powdery snow piled up in drifts in the street and plastered the front of the Center with a curtain of gossamer white before continuing on its way out over the harbor.

Frevven looked through his office window at the racing flakes, streaming almost horizontal in the wind. The storm pawed at the old building like a wild animal seeking entrance. Every so often the windows rattled, protesting the fierce onslaught. A thin trickle of snow had been forced past the boards covering the broken stained-glass panel in his office, and it lay forlornly melting into a damp spot on the carpet.

It went without saying that no one had come in to donate that morning. Frevven stared unhappily out his window, listening to the wind and trying not to think of how miserable he felt, between entran and need. It was all right. He could make it. His transfer with V'lissia was scheduled for late tomorrow morning. He could last until then.

The snow. White, swirling, waiting.

Frevven blinked, finding it hard to pull his eyes away.

The hurrying flakes flew hypnotically by, bringing a memory in their wake.

The silence of the snow-covered forest and the cruel, cold mountains surrounding Chilton Lake. That same familiar out-Territory ambient, a sick combination of fear, overlaid and transmuted into hate. Nothing personal or reasonable­-only that you were Sime, the enemy, the tangible presence of sin and evil in the world. The one to be destroyed.

A young Sime peered in confused terror and sorrow over the top of a cold granite boulder. He shivered as the winter wind blew through his clothing. In the graveyard before him, Reverend Beltraim read the funeral service over the body of his dead sister. Fingers and tentacles were blue and numb with cold where he hugged the boulder, but he felt the coldness only in his broken heart as he saw his father cast a handful of earth into the open grave and heard him say clearly, "I shall mourn my son even as I bury my daughter. Both my children are now dead. May God have mercy on their souls."

The youngster pressed his cheek against the rough granite and wept hopelessly as the funeral party left. Later that same day he was discovered at his sister's graveside by several of the townspeople. How he'd managed to run fast enough to escape most of their bullets, he didn't know. Only one caught him in the leg, but he found he could ignore the pain. He fled into the mountains around the little town, and just kept running.

He stumbled up the slippery mountainside, bushes and tree limbs reaching out from the surrounding gloom to point accusing fingers at him. Somewhere in the forest, an animal screamed shortly and was silent. Exhausted, the boy fell on his face in a snowbank and wished for death.

The full moon rose slowly over the shoulder of the worn mountain peak, glistening on the ice-glazed snow. It climbed deliberately up into the sky, its light reflecting across the snowfield and seeming almost to form a path to where he lay. Like a beacon, it summoned him onward.

Painfully, he staggered to his feet and stumbled along that shimmering path. Somewhere he knew there were others like him. Somewhere there would be those who could understand. He wouldn't give up just yet. He'd go on a little longer. There had to be something out there for him, despite everything. There had to be.

There was, but it took him almost a month to find it. The snow still lay in deep drifts on the ground when Frevven reached Kapernaum, the closest town that had a Sime Center.

All day he waited, hiding outside the town. There were people here who might help, if he could get to them. The confusing patterns of the town's ambient shifted like a crazy kaleidoscope, and he tried vainly to ignore them.

His panic grew, but he forced himself to wait for darkness, then for the deserted stillness of the late-night streets. Snowflakes sprinkled down from the lowering sky to land on the stolen overcoat he clutched around his shoulders. Even in the muted glow of energy from the sleeping town, he could sense each individual snowflake as it drifted slowly by. That was crazy. He'd never seen things that clearly with his eyes.

At last, he sneaked into the town, running soundlessly through the streets, drawn by a particularly bright spot in the insane and unreal world some strange sense seemed intent on feeding into his mind.

Here, here was the place. He forced his eyes into focus, his nose barely a handbreadth from the signboard in an effort to read the painted letters. Kapernaum Sime Center. Yes, this was it.

Frevven raced up the steps to the entrance.

The door opened, and a pulsating field blossomed from behind it. There was a startled exclamation and then someone came into his arms with confidence and assurance.

Miraculously, this one wanted to help, didn't pull away.

He had found safety at last. Gladly, the boy took the selyn so freely offered, hungrily drawing it in to fill the consuming void inside his deprived body.

Then that other, forced violently and unexpectedly beyond his limits, tried to resist.

Frevven felt the man's total astonishment as he discovered that he was hopelessly overcontrolled by the half-dead youngster he wanted only to save. Astonishment; becoming pain; becoming fear; becoming a wild effort not to panic, with underneath still compassion, and a desire, even now, to help; becoming hideous agony.

Frevven struggled to cut off the transfer, not even sure if such a thing were possible. But by then it was too late for Tomithy Marston. The Third Order Donor was dead, not drained of selyn, but simply burned out by the speed of the young channel's untrained and undisciplined draw.

Frevven turned away from the window and the hypnotic snow with an oath. All this remembering would have to stop. It was getting to him, making him crazy. If only Tomithy had been better trained, or had had the sense not to try to handle the transfer by himself, or­-

He sat down and forced himself to concentrate on his paperwork, sternly blocking all thought of Tomithy's dead, fear-twisted face from his mind.

The storm began to clear that afternoon, but the sun lost its battle with the clouds, making only a dim glow in the overcast sky. The town lay dazed under a heavy blanket of snow, only a few hardy citizens daring to stir out-of-doors.

Frevven had just come into the dining hall, resigned to a rather spiritless dinner, when the sound of distant chanting disturbed the silence outside.

Anieva looked up from her plate of vegetable stew. "What on earth is that?"

Frevven shook his head and looked blank. Then the chant turned to melody, a rousing Church of the Purity hymn. He made a face. Leaving the dining hall, he went to the window on the landing of the stairway and cautiously drew aside the heavy selyn-insulating drapes.

Hooded figures in long gray robes marched in single file down the street, singing as they took up positions across the road from the Center. Several of them held flaring torches.

"Are those the Watchkeepers you've been telling us about?" Anieva asked, staring over his shoulder.

Frevven nodded.

"What do they want?"

"Wait," he counseled. "I'm sure they'll let us know soon enough."

There were almost thirty people, standing in the snow and facing the Center. Clarendon Richt arrived last. He alone wore no hood.

Kurt climbed the stairs and joined the two Simes at the window. "I've got a feeling this is about the Anna Marie."

Frevven held himself hypoconscious so he couldn't zlin the ambient from the gathering crowd. The Center's insulation kept the worst of it back, but he was extremely uncomfortable nonetheless. "What about the Anna Marie?"

"You haven't heard?"

He shook his head distractedly, still trying to ignore the emotions emanating from the mob.

"She went down in the storm last night. The boat coming in ahead of her picked up one survivor. Search parties are out looking for the rest of the bodies now. According to the Fiorenza, one minute her lights were there, and the next minute they were gone. Must have hit the rocks at the edge of Silver Shoal."

"Witches!" came a shout from the street. "Sorcerers!"

Other voices joined in, yelling about the Simes putting a curse on the Anna Marie because her captain had fired Lem.

"Are they serious?" Anieva asked, almost ready to smile at the foolishness.

A shrill female voice called down damnation on Lem Cabrell, who had sold his soul to the demons. She shrieked brokenly about his being responsible for her son's death on the sunken fishing boat.

Anieva and Kurt glanced at each other with a sad shake of their heads. Frevven moved closer to the window, cautiously zlinning the ambient.

The mob brought out a straw figure, grossly exaggerated tentacles jutting grotesquely from its arms. They propped it up in the road in a spot cleared of snow. Taking a torch, Richt set the straw Sime afire, then stood with crossed arms watching the flames. Robed figures shook fists at the Center, some waving torches as if to say the real thing would be the next to burn.

Inside the Center, people huddled in groups at all the street-side windows, lights behind them carefully extinguished so they couldn't be seen. Frevven heard someone crack a joke about the Watchkeepers' ridiculous antics.

Shen and shid, am I the only one who knows they're serious? he asked himself in annoyance.

He let the drape fall across the window, its insulation again muffling the ambient of the crowd outside. "It doesn't zlin right. There's something more to this."

"Seems like the usual combination of hostility and fear to me," Anieva said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Frevven shook his head. "There's something underneath that, but it's hard to read, especially with Richt's field dominating the crowd. I've got to get a clearer reading." He turned and started down the stairs.

"Where are you going?"

"Out the side door into the garden."

The fresh snow lay glittering in the moonlight like a bed of rhinestones. Frevven waded through the drifts, his shoes filling with snow and his trousers soaking wet long before he had reached the high wooden wall that ran along the street. The Watchkeepers were singing another hymn.

The channel smiled to himself. He knew that one. In fact, he probably knew all eight verses of it, if he thought about it.

But he was here to zlin, not to listen to hymns. This close to need, he would be even more sensitive than usual. Pressing his hands against the wall, he extended his laterals and concentrated, letting the chaotic emotions flow through his mind. His eyes closed and his head bent forward to rest against the ice-glazed wood, as he went fully hyperconscious.

The Gens moved in glittering streamers of scarlet red hatred, each streamer being picked up by Clarendon Richt, focussed, and sent forth in an intertwined wave of fury directed at the Sime Center. The man's ability to manipulate the ambient was nothing short of fiendish, whether or not he consciously realized what he was doing. The street and the entire surrounding area of the town glowed in deep reds, crimson, and scarlet and almost violet in places. Frevven's skin prickled with the sheer intensity of focussed fury. He shuddered.

The mob kept its distance, with no one approaching closer than the far side of the wide street. Strange. It was almost as if they knew most Second Order channels wouldn't be able to zlin individual identities at that distance, in such a confused ambient.

Frevven isolated the effects of Richt's nageric manipulation and did his best to filter them out, wondering what else was out there. Not far from the clergyman, a hard silver-shiny field glinted coldly, contributing a few faint streamers of energy to the general flow, but primarily self-contained and isolated.

Farika Snow's blue eyes and black hair flitted through his memory. Her hard-shelled, closed-in nager. That had to be her.

Frevven's attention passed her by. There was nothing to be learned there. He thought he recognized a few other townspeople, but he was far from certain.

Near the edge of the crowd there was a fearful flicker, pale pink against the reds. He aimed for that slight difference, magnified it, pulled it into sharper focus.

The atypical field moved through the ambient, towards Richt. It feared discovery, worried that this diversion wouldn't be enough, that the demons would realize what it had just done. Then it was submerged by the clergyman's nager, beaten down and swallowed up.

Triumphant hatred flashed higher, a wave breaking on the Center's walls and flowing over and around the hyperconscious channel. Frevven staggered backwards a few steps, almost able to feel the ambient crashing down on his head and knocking him off his feet. In self-defense, he went fully hypoconscious, cutting off his awareness of the energy fields entirely.

He realized he was shivering violently, his laterals aching with the cold even though they had automatically retreated into their sheaths.

But he had been right. There was a further purpose to all this commotion.


He was about to try zlinning again when he saw the plume of smoke rising from beyond the wall at the side of the Center's yard. It seemed to be coming from further up the street along the beach.

Racing into the building, Frevven ran up the stairs and threw open a window looking out in that direction, leaving a trail of astonished Simes and Gens in his wake.

Not far up the street, a house was burning, flames just beginning to show through the windows.

Wasn't that where Lem and his daughter lived?

Frevven remembered the woman cursing Lem. And the fearful Gen he had zlinned sneaking into the crowd.

Augmenting, he ran down the stairs, grabbed his retainers from his office and began putting them on even as he called his staff together and began giving orders. Within minutes, he and Anieva, along with six other Simes, were climbing quietly over the Center's back fence and down the seawall to the beach, while Kurt created a diversion by yelling out a front window at the crowd.

As silently as wind-blown shadows, the Simes raced down the snow-covered beach to the burning house. Just as they arrived, Janni ran out the back door in a soot-smeared nightgown, rubbing streaming eyes and calling hoarsely for her father. When she caught sight of the Simes, she went abruptly silent.

Even through his retainers, Frevven could tell Lem Cabrell wasn't outside the house. He thought he could detect a Gen inside, but the field was flat, unconscious. The channel started automatically toward a side door.

Anieva grabbed his upper arm. She didn't have to ask for him to know her question.

"Lem's there, in the kitchen. I'm going after him."

Anieva took hold of him with both hands, preparing to augment if she had to. "No. The only channel on the islands cannot risk his life." She waved to the other Simes. Two women ran into the burning building, even as Frevven realized the logic of Anieva's statement.

But Lem was his friend. He couldn't just stand here and do nothing.

As a channel, he had to.

He nodded slightly, letting Anieva know he understood.

Janni stared at them, then she ran over to Frevven, clutching at his shirt. "My father­-"

Before she could finish, the Simes emerged from the house at top speed, carrying Lem between them. One woman's hair was on fire and the other's shirt smoldered. They ran across the beach and plunged directly into the water, as someone else yelled, "Get back! The house is going to­-"

With a crackle and a sharp grinding crunch, the roof sagged and collapsed into the building, throwing up a shower of sparks. Frevven and Anieva grabbed Janni and pulled her back towards the water. The rescue party staggered out of the waves, dripping wet in the frigid night air, still holding Lem's unconscious body.

Frevven rushed over, zlinned the Gen briefly. "He's alive, but he'll require help. Everybody back to the Center. Fast!"

By the time the town's firefighters had arrived, having been blocked by Richt's mob further down the street, there was nothing to be seen but the burning house and the deserted beach.

Frevven had them bring Lem to the transfer suite on the top floor of the Center, since it had the best stock of emergency medications. As Kurt removed Lem's soaked clothing and held an oxygen mask to the man's face, Frevven zlinned the unconscious Gen carefully. V'lis positioned herself close to the channel, her field warm and comforting, offering him support.

Lem had been in to donate just over a week ago, so his field was none too bright. In his chest and near the back of his head, there were dim areas in his nager, where cells had been destroyed and were dying. He had obviously been knocked unconscious by a blow on the head from behind. His breath rattled in his throat, his lungs scorched and raw after having inhaled the smoke from his burning house. Where he'd been struck on the head, blood seeped slowly from broken capillaries beneath his skull, beginning to put pressure on delicate brain tissue.

That could be dangerous, if it didn't stop quickly. Frevven concentrated on the head injury, his hands going to the Gen's temples, laterals extended and almost touching his scalp. Darkened, dying cells outlined the damaged area, their selyn production ebbing.

Frevven was no expert in healing injuries, but he'd had the usual training. He grasped for a hold on Lem's field, unconscious and unresponsive though it was. He struggled to catch it, hold it. There. Almost.

Lem's selyn production altered subtly in an automatic effort to match with Frevven's selyn consumption rate. Although the Gen couldn't begin to match with the channel, something in him tried. That was a good sign, but most unexpected in someone who wasn't a technical class Donor. It allowed Frevven to mesh more tightly with him.

Frevven narrowed his concentration to the damaged area of Lem's brain, the bruised membranes, the dimming nerve cells. The Gen's body was trying to respond to his need, so Frevven let himself feel that need fully, showing it to Lem's faltering field, goading it to produce more and yet more selyn.

And when Lem responded, when some of the dying cells brightened with fresh selyn, when bleeding capillaries revived, struggling to heal, Frevven breathed a sigh of relief. With the head injury stabilized, he turned his attention to Lem's smoke-seared lungs. He shifted position, momentarily withdrawing his laterals into their sheaths.

"Frevven, you should rest." V'lis' voice, quiet, concerned. "You've been working on him for over fifteen minutes."

Exhaustion flowed over the channel like a wave of molasses. Yes, he should rest, sleep. Let V'lis try to pull him together again. Weariness dragged him down. His laterals cramped from the long extension and he massaged his forearms carefully. He didn't have the ability for this sort of delicate channel's functional.

Lem coughed gently, then his body shook with a spasm of racking coughs, as he fought for breath, still unconscious.

Frevven tried to rub his aching eyes, encountered his glasses, and folded them up into one of his pockets. Kurt handed him a damp towel and he scrubbed it across his face, hoping to revive himself a bit. It was almost too much effort to think.

"How's Janni doing?" In the rush to care for Lem, he had lost track of the child.

"She's okay. Just worried about her father. Anieva's looking after her," V'lis offered.

Kurt took a quick look at the bandage covering Lem's head. "The bleeding's stopped. That's an improvement."

"His lungs­-" Frevven left the sentence hanging, too tired to continue. Then he wiped his hands on the towel and tossed it aside. Lem had to have help or he would die. Even now, his lungs were filling with fluids.

Frevven held his hands over the man's chest and extended his laterals again, ignoring the dull drain of weariness that seemed to be sucking the life out of him. V'lis rested her hands on his shoulders, but she too was tiring, her nager wilting at the edges.

It was another half-hour before Lem was out of the woods. Although he remained unconscious, he breathed easier. Frevven checked the head injury one last time, satisfied that all bleeding had stopped and damaged blood vessels were being repaired or replaced. Then he collapsed onto the cot at the side of the room and knew nothing more until morning.

It was shortly before dawn when Frevven awoke. Somewhat to his surprise, he discovered V'lissia fast asleep on another cot next to him. Possibly her very presence had been enough to keep him asleep for so long.

Lem was no longer on the transfer couch. He must have been moved to another room sometime during the night. Maybe he'd better get up, go check on the Gen. Lem might require further attention and­-no, if anything were wrong, someone would have called him, surely.

Throwing one arm across his eyes to block out the early morning light seeping into the windows, Frevven allowed himself a few minutes of relaxation. V'lis' sleeping nager permeated the room, shimmering softly around her in pale tones. By that intense light that was not light at all, Frevven could even zlin the patterns of frost on the windowpane, the ice crystals etched in delicate designs by the bitter cold outside.

As he lay savoring the quiet peace surrounding him, Frevven realized uncomfortably that he was already in hard need. Indeed, without V'lissia's presence, he'd be in bad shape. The combination of last night's augmentation and then the protracted healing session had left his primary system badly depleted. And his transfer with V'lis wasn't scheduled until much later in the morning.

He stirred uncomfortably, turning to face the wall. He didn't want to do it early. That wouldn't look good on his record.

V'lissia's nager pulled together into a sharper focus as she awoke. "G'morning," she said as she stretched and sat up. "You did a marvelous job with Lem. I've seen First Order channels who couldn't have done any better."

"Thanks," Frevven replied, turning to face her and preparing to get to his feet.

Unexpectedly, she slid over to sit next to him on his cot before he could sit up, holding out her hands and smiling, her field a bright promise.

"V'lis, our transfer isn't supposed to be for several hours yet."

"I know. But surely we could make an exception this time?"

Frevven shook his head.

"Look," she persisted, "what if you got an emergency call, right now? Do you think you could go sailing off on the Morning Star and be in any kind of shape to deal with a changeover? You're the only channel on the islands. You've got to consider such things, not just the Tecton rules and regulations. And besides, you've also got to think about your own welfare sometimes, you know," she finished lightly.

Her concern was entirely genuine, but at this point Frevven would almost have preferred the more usual impersonal detachment of a relative stranger. There was a certain tinge of pity in V'lissia's field, and he found that hard to endure. But her nager held him, nonetheless. She sat next to him in a blazing envelope of greenish-blue energy, which swirled around her physical body and illuminated the entire room. He wasn't even seeing her with his eyes. In fact, he realized belatedly, he didn't have his glasses on. They must be still in his side pocket, where he had put them last night.

He tried to consider V'lis' remarks rationally, but it was difficult in the face of her lovely nager, blooming now with invitation. His forearms ached with a tension that was almost pleasurable, as his glands poured ronaplin into his lateral sheaths, goaded by V'lis' field. A few hours weren't so important. He had saved Lem's life, hadn't he? "Maybe you're right. After all, there are extenuating circumstances."

Was that a smug flicker he zlinned in V'lis' field? She seemed to be concealing something as she once again held out her hands. No matter; it wasn't important just now.

Keeping a tight rein on his eagerness, Frevven grasped her arms and made lateral contact, as she leaned down to touch her lips to his.

A rich abundance of selyn poured into him, but he kept his draw speed in tight check, not certain what he could expect from this Gen.

He let his speed creep cautiously higher. He was in enough trouble already. If he should burn his Donor this month­-

Something vaguely like a snort of disdain reverberated shortly through V'lis' field. Before it could begin to dissipate, she had wrenched control of the selyn flow away from him. Effortlessly, she increased the speed at which her body released selyn. He no longer had to hold back­-it was there in abundance, waiting for him, all he could take and more.

Compared to this, Frevven's past transfers had been exercises in controlled frustration. He was drawing full out now, selyn flowing swiftly through his starved system, thrilling along each nerve with the sheer joy of life. How had he survived so long without this? It was so easy, so natural. He didn't even have to think about it. V'lis could take care of it. V'lis knew what she was doing. She wouldn't let him hurt her. She could­-

She could control. But Gens aren't allowed to control transfer, in the Tecton. It's too risky. Things can go wrong.

Panic-stricken, Frevven tried to snatch control of the energy flow back from her. As fierce ecstasy ran through his nerves and brain, he fought the illicit pleasure. If he got used to letting a Gen control, he might not be able to stop himself, might go too far and hurt one of his Donors someday.

Their two wills clashed, and harmony turned into conflict. The selyn flow became jumbled and confused, but Frevven had almost reached satiety anyway. He brought the transfer to a ragged but acceptable conclusion.

Turning his head to break lip contact, Frevven retracted his laterals and released his grip on V'lissia's arms. The expression on her face was somewhere between confusion and pleasure.

"Thank you, V'lis. That was­-er­-rather nice. But you really shouldn't try to overcontrol a channel like that. It's strictly against the rules."

Instead of sitting back as he'd expected her to, V'lis slid her hands up his arms until they rested on his shoulders, leaning forward and propping her weight on her elbows. Frevven was surprised to find her face so close to his that he could see her clearly even without his glasses. He tensed and shrank back against the pillow beneath his head. What was she up to now?

V'lissia giggled. "Relax, silly. I'm not going to bite you."

Taking advantage of his surprise, she kissed him, lips slightly parted and inviting.

Frevven grasped her firmly by the shoulders and lifted her up far enough to disengage her mouth from his. "You shouldn't be doing that," he chided. But her closeness felt good, and her lips had tasted sweet in that brief moment before he pushed her away. So soon after transfer, zlinning was difficult. He had trained himself to do it if he had to, but it required a definite effort. In the temporary silence of his Sime senses, his other senses seemed magnified, her shoulders soft beneath his fingers, even the fabric of her blouse smooth and silky to the touch.

V'lis grinned that mischievous grin that made Frevven feel so uncomfortable. Prevented from kissing him again by the way he was holding her, she turned her head sideways and ran her tongue down the side of his hand, almost to the lateral orifice at his wrist.

Frevven stiffened. His fingers dug into her shoulders where he held her.

"Uh, V'lis, you shouldn't be doing that either," he said, much less definitely than before.

"Shen and shid, Frevven, will you never be done lecturing me on what I shouldn't be doing? It feels good, doesn't it?"

"Yes, of course," he admitted. Too good. "You're my Donor. There are rules­-"

"Shen the rules," she whispered, once again trying to lean forward to kiss him.

Frevven pushed her up into a sitting position, swinging his legs over the side of the cot. He was not prepared for her to move onto his lap the way she did, wrap her arms around his neck, and snuggle her head against his shoulder. He was even less prepared for the extremely explicit feelings she was projecting. Even low field as she was, he couldn't help but react to that at such close range.

He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. "V'lis, stop it, please. You don't know what you're doing to me."

"I know exactly what I'm doing to you. I can feel it. I'm not totally naive, you know." She shifted, pressing her breasts against the front of his shirt and squirming her hips on his lap.

With a strangled oath, Frevven lifted her up and set her on her feet. He turned his back to her, taking a few steps towards the dying fire on the hearth. "If you can't control yourself any better than this, please leave."

She flared momentary anger and frustration, and then dismissed it.

"When was the last time you made love to someone?" she challenged.

"Not so long ago. A couple of months, maybe." Frevven's hand closed on the edge of the mantelpiece, and he willed his body not to be aroused. Not now, not here, not with his own Donor. It was too easy to fall into a transfer dependency like that, the sexual experience reinforcing the transfer until the Sime found himself hopelessly tied up with his Donor, unable to relinquish that Donor next month to someone else. Hence, the rule against sex with a Donor. If he could get away from her, find someone else, that might dilute what he was feeling.

"`A couple of months, maybe,'" V'lis mimicked, with a soft laugh. She came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I want you, silly. And I want you to want me too. You don't have to love me or anything. Just want me. We won't get into a dependency, don't worry."

"I can't. It's against the rules," Frevven insisted, twisting himself out of her grip. He moved to go around her, beating a hasty retreat for the door.

V'lis stomped her foot on the floor and shook both fists in his face. "Rules, rules, rules! Are you a man, or a goddamned Tecton rulebook?"

Her brown eyes overflowed, loosing a tear to run down her flushed cheek.

Frevven stared in amazement at her outburst. Simes were supposed to get hysterical after transfer, not Gens. She should be the one calming him down, pulling him together. What was the matter with the woman, anyway? Her lack of control was beginning to get to him. No wonder she had never made First. She was far too emotional.

"V'lissia, please stop this. You're upsetting me."

" I'm upsetting you?" A short and ironic laugh, as she wiped the tear from her face. "I thought­-I thought I'd make this a really good transfer for you, and afterwards, you wouldn't be able to resist me. And you'd feel so much better, and stop looking so harassed and rattled all the time, constantly worrying about Clarendon Richt and all that nonsense. I thought I could really help." She looked at him suddenly, wide eyes narrowed. "But, no, all you can talk about is rules."

She thought she could solve his problems by seducing him? Strange idea, but he'd heard it before at various times. Seemed to be a popular notion, and not only among women. Sure, channels required sex every so often if they were to continue functioning properly, but Gens tended to make too big a deal of that, in Frevven's opinion.

And yet, he couldn't deny he found her compellingly attractive. And it had been a long time, despite his brave words.

V'lis sighed. Acknowledging defeat, she started for the door. "Okay, I know when I'm not wanted. Maybe you'd just rather have Anieva, or one of the other Sime women," she muttered. "Some channels feel that way."

It wasn't until she turned to walk away that Frevven realized he didn't want Anieva, or any of the other women at the Center. Suddenly, only this one particular woman would do, although he couldn't for the life of him understand why.

"V'lissia," he said in a strangled voice, "please don't go."

She didn't.

Proceed to chapter nine