ONLY GOOD SIME
BY KERRY LINDEMANN-SCHAEFER
When Frevven went to check on Lem, he found the Gen propped up on several pillows, conscious but still weak and dizzy. Janni sat next to him, coaxing him to swallow a few spoonfuls of broth despite his raw throat.
The fisherman tried to say something, but all that came out was a hoarse croak. Janni laid a hand on his arm, then turned to Frevven. "My father says to thank you for saving his life."
Lem nodded, then winced as the movement sent fresh pain shooting through his bandaged head. Frevven sat on the edge of the bed, zlinning the Gen as unobtrusively as possible. No longer in need, he couldn't read Lem's field with the accuracy he had been able to get last night, but he could easily tell the Gen was on the mend.
"Uh-Hajene Aylmeer," Janni began, "I want to thank you also."
Frevven waved it aside. "You should thank Amalie and Rillis, not me. They're the ones who hauled your father out of the fire."
"I know. But Kurt says you healed him afterwards. I don't understand how you can do that, but I guess that doesn't matter, if it works." She stared directly into Frevven's eyes, almost as if she were measuring him in some way. "Kurt says it wasn't easy for you, either." One hand went to her chest, touching something beneath her blouse. "It was the Watchkeepers who tried to murder my father, wasn't it?"
"Looks that way," Frevven said carefully.
With a decisive nod, Janni pulled the medallion out from under her blouse and stared at it for a moment. She unfastened the chain, then got to her feet and started across the room towards the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To the outhouse, to get rid of this." Her voice shook as she looked at her father, his face still pale and drawn with pain. Her eyes blazed fiercely. "If murdering people is Reverend Richt's idea of salvation, I want no more of it."
Frevven and Lem smiled at each other as she left the room.
For the next couple of days, Frevven made a point of avoiding V'lissia as much as he could. One breach of the rules was bad enough, but perhaps nothing would come of it if he didn't let it happen again. And it hadn't turned into a dependency, as he had feared. He could easily contemplate the idea of V'lis serving someone else next month. He wasn't fixed on her at all. In fact, he was quite content not to be in her presence. It would be okay.
As he filled out the official record of their transfer, he wondered whether he dared avoid any mention of what had happened afterwards. He thought he might speak to V'lis, maybe find out if she would go along with a little strategic silence about the entire episode. But that could wait a bit. He didn't want to see her just yet.
Pushing the report form aside, Frevven left his office and climbed the stairs to the third floor room where Lem was. The Gen seemed much improved, sitting up in a chair and gazing out the window at the harbor. However, a dark swirl of melancholy pervaded his nager, giving the lie to the smile on his face as Frevven came to stand alongside him.
"Something wrong?" the channel asked.
Lem nodded. "We can't stay on the islands." His voice was still rough, but he could talk if he didn't overdo it. "Janni and I will be moving to the mainland, as soon as I'm up to it. I won't risk this sort of thing happening again."
Frevven knew full well the man didn't have enough money to start over again somewhere else. With his home and all his belongings destroyed, he had to be in dire straits.
"Where will you go?"
Lem looked out the window again, drinking in the sight of the boats coming and going in the harbor. Frevven could feel his love for the island, and his unwillingness to leave. "Dunno. But I'll be able to find work on a boat somewhere. Sure won't be able to do that on Innsfrey."
"Why don't you and Janni live here at the Center for a while? We've got enough empty rooms."
"I don't want no charity."
"It wouldn't be charity. The kids in the changeover classes like you, and you can help with some of the repairs on the Morning Star and around the building."
Lem was tempted, but still he hesitated. "I'm afraid for Janni. She shouldn't be exposed to all this." Then he brightened. "I could send her to live with my sister's family on Westerly. They're good people, and the Salvation Church isn't so powerful out there."
"If you like. But she's welcome here at the Center-"
Frevven stopped as he zlinned V'lissia coming down the hall. Maybe she was just passing by.
She wasn't. The door opened and she stood framed in the doorway, carrying a tray of food. Frevven stared at her uncomfortably for a moment. Then he did a double take, zlinning her with more concentration this time. She didn't zlin quite the same as before. Something was wrong, a sort of blurring that hadn't been there several days ago, an indefinite-
"Oh, no!" he exclaimed. It wasn't indefinite at all. In fact, he knew exactly what it was.
"Well," she retorted, "that's not much of a greeting."
"I'm sorry." He readjusted his glasses on his nose. "Come over to my room, will you?"
"That's more like it." V'lis smiled brightly as she set the tray down next to Lem. With a twinkle in her dark eyes, she gave Lem a wink. That same twinkle seemed to permeate her nager as she followed Frevven to the far end of the hall and into his room. She sat on the bed and smiled. Then the smile faltered as she saw the look on his face.
"Frevven? What's the matter? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're pregnant," he said, sounding as if he were choking on the words.
"I am? Well, maybe I am. You don't have to sound so dismayed."
"But-but that means I'm-" he hesitated before finishing uncertainly, "-the father?"
"That's the way it usually works, isn't it?"
He groaned and covered his face with his hands.
"Hey, if anyone should be upset, it's me, not you. It's no great catastrophe. I want children, and this is as good a time as any to get started."
"I don't think you entirely understand. What we did is illegal. I was hoping to keep it quiet. We're likely to be in a lot of trouble."
She shrugged and bounced lightly on the bed. "Oh, phooey. What harm have we done? We're not involved in a dependency. The Tecton should be pleased that I'm pregnant. They're always encouraging channels to have children, aren't they?"
"Well, yes. But not like this. And there's often a risk involved in carrying a channel's child."
"I know. But pregnancy is a calculated risk under any circumstances. That's never stopped women from having children."
"But I don't want children."
"It's a little late to think of that now, isn't it?"
"Yes," he admitted forlornly. Then he thought of something else, a further ramification of this disaster. "When would you like to get married?"
V'lis considered a moment, a slight frown settling over her face. "That's not exactly what I'd call a romantic proposal."
"Sorry. I don't feel very romantic."
Her nager unsettled, forming hesitantly into a brief reflection of the desire they'd shared that night in the transfer suite. Frevven's voice cut into her reverie. "Stop it! You caught me post and off-balance that time. I have no wish for a repeat performance now."
V'lis flounced to her feet, nager crystallizing into an uncharacteristic hardness. "Well, we're going to have a hell of a boring marriage then, aren't we?" she retorted acidly. She stomped out of the room, slamming the door as she went.
Frevven stared after her, wondering what he had said to make her so angry. Well, no matter. As soon as she calmed down, she'd see the sense in what he'd said. He didn't really want a wife. Not now. Maybe not ever. Life was too complicated already. But he couldn't just leave her to bear his child alone. That wouldn't have been fair.
How had he ever gotten himself into this? He must be in worse condition than he'd realized, if he'd allowed his Donor to seduce him. The strain must be getting to him.
Then he remembered the report form, still lying on his desk down in his office. With a bitter snort, he reflected that he'd have to fill it out truthfully after all. Not only that, he'd better get it in to the controller's office just as quickly as possible. The sooner V'lis was re-assigned in-Territory, the better.
The weather continued to be bitter cold, with a gusty wind that swirled and re-distributed the fallen snow into unpredictable drifts. The Cormorant's return trip from the mainland was delayed, but when her sails were finally sighted from the lookout tower, V'lis bundled up and trudged down to the dock to see if there was any news of her re-assignment.
Still swathed in scarves, mittens, and heavy boots, she rushed into Frevven's office and dropped the worn leather dispatch case on his desk. "Well," she asked with a cheerful grin as she unbuttoned her long coat, "where are they sending me?"
Frevven sorted rapidly through the papers, hoping he wouldn't find the summons to an official inquiry over V'lis' pregnancy. He allowed himself a sigh of relief when he realized the dreaded summons wasn't there, then he pulled out V'lis' re-assignment notification.
"Here you go," he said as she sat down to pull off her boots. He glanced over the paper quickly, then continued with forced cheerfulness, "You'll be going to Santenkaty Landing, just as soon as your replacement arrives."
Her nager flared with a bright burst of surprise. "Santenkaty Landing? The new Center for Special Problems? Wow! I didn't think I'd rate that sort of attention. There are other places that have perfectly good maternity departments." Then she calmed a little and smiled. "Oh, I'll bet this is my cousin's doing. He's on the committee responsible for staffing the new Center, and he probably thinks he'll be able to keep an eye on me this way."
Frevven successfully kept the envy out of his voice. He'd have liked to work at the Santenkaty Center himself, but at the rate he was going, he'd be lucky if he didn't end up there as one of the "special problems" they treated, rather than as part of the staff. "I understand some of the buildings are still under construction, but they've already begun taking in patients."
V'lis made a face. "I have trouble seeing myself as a patient, somehow. I mean, I won't really require any special care for months yet. I bet I could even handle a few more transfer assignments, before the baby begins to have any effect on me."
"You'd better let the channels decide that." A relatively high proportion of the children of a channel turned out to be channels themselves, and such babies usually drained their mother's selyn prior to birth to a much greater extent than an infant not destined to become a channel. The maternal death rate amongst women, Sime or Gen, who carried the child of a channel was uncomfortably high, despite the special attention and care they received.
V'lis laughed. "Oh, don't worry. I'll be careful."
Picking up the stack of papers that had come in the same dispatch with V'lissia's re-assignment, Frevven ostentatiously gathered them into a neat pile and tamped down the edges.
V'lis took the hint. "You must be busy. Guess I'll start getting my things packed." She gathered her outdoor clothes into her arms, then stood staring at him for a moment. "I won't be leaving for a few days yet, you know. And since I'm already pregnant-"
Frevven nodded absently, not taking the hint. Shaking her head, V'lis headed for the door as he glanced down at the top paper in his pile. "Oh, shen and shid!"
Halfway across the room, she turned back. "Something wrong?"
"Yes. No. Not really. Kurt's been ordered to the mainland to provide an emergency transfer." He scanned the document. "Our snowstorm became a regular blizzard ashore. Roads are blocked, out-Territory Centers are isolated, Donors are stranded and unable to make their assignments."
"Sounds like a real mess. But I'm sure they'll send someone to take Kurt's place. After all, the Tecton can't leave you out here without any Donors."
"But I thought next month I'd have Kurt, and" he broke off at the ironic shimmer in her low field.
"One Donor's as good as another. Right?"
"Uh-yes, of course. Right. I was-just surprised, that's all."
She grinned and almost laughed before she ducked out of the room. "Oh, sure. I understand."
Kurt left that very same day on the return voyage of the Cormorant, leaving V'lis as the only Donor on the island until her replacement arrived. One of the local fishing boats brought word that the cargo schooner had had trouble getting to port, since the mainland harbors were beginning to fill with ice.
Lem cast uneasy glances over Innsfrey Harbor, watching the growing accumulation of pack ice drifting in the cold gray water and wondering how long the harbor would remain passable.
He sent Janni to her aunt on Westerly Island on the Morning Star along with Frevven, when the channel went to hold his regular child-zlinning clinic in the middle of that week. Janni begged to be allowed to stay with her father, but Lem was adamant. He wanted her out of harm's way, he insisted.
Frevven returned from the clinic and began peeling off his cape and heavy boots in the main hallway of the Center, describing the trip to Lem and telling him how warmly Janni had been greeted by her relatives. He could zlin V'lis at the desk in the reception room, probably filling in for somebody who was sick. A number of Gens on the staff were down with colds. There were no other Gens in the room, he noticed resignedly. In the past week, only five local people had come in to donate.
Frevven shrugged. He was getting used to the light workload by now, but it would have been nice to take a few donations.
Then he noticed the dim glow of a Gen approaching the Center's front door. Through the insulated walls, the field was just barely perceptible, but it was there. Great! Just what he had been hoping for.
"Someone's coming," he called cheerfully to V'lis. "I'll be in my office if you want me."
"I'll go see who it is," Lem offered. "Could be someone I know."
Frevven nodded, stowing his cape and boots in the closet and heading for his office. He had just reached the door when V'lissia's dimmed nager bloomed with surprise and sudden joy. Another field overlaid it, also low, but intense.
Frevven stopped in mid-stride, his back towards the reception room and his mind refusing to assimilate the information his Sime senses had just registered.
A squeal of surprise and joy from the other room. Then V'lissia's laughter and a formal introduction.
"Lem Cabrell, this is my cousin, Schalchiachaynechtym Vorlek."
"Schal-what?" Lem asked.
"Schalchiachaynechtym," V'lis repeated, more slowly. "Did I pronounce it right this time, cousin?"
"Well, almost," the newcomer conceded. "Just call me Chaynek, please. Chaynek ambrov Zeor."
Frevven scuttled into his office, pushing the door closed behind him and then sagging against it.
"Just call me Chaynek, please."
Not him! Oh, please, no! Not him!
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to remember.
Under the watchful gaze of the channel who had accompanied him, Frevven dismounted from his horse at the gate to the new place they'd decided to send him, a place he knew he'd never leave alive unless he could successfully disjunct. And he hadn't much hope of doing that, not judging by the attitudes of the channels who'd questioned and examined him. Two months of nothing but transfers from other channels had left him unsatisfied and constantly on edge, and he knew he probably had three or four months more to go before he'd reach the crisis point when he'd be able to disjunct once and for all.
Maybe. If he lived that long. He was due for yet another miserable transfer in two days, and he was not looking forward to the prospect. Last month he had aborted three times before the other channel had been able to force enough selyn into him to keep him going. It had not been a fun experience. Everyone assured him it would be easier after he'd disjuncted, but an entire lifetime of channel's transfer didn't sound too appealing.
Downcast and disgusted, Frevven followed obediently after the channel who'd taken charge of him at this new place, an intense woman with black hair, dark eyes and a strangely expressive mouth.
Inside the gate, they crossed a courtyard and headed towards the middle building in a U-shaped cluster. Frevven glanced around, squinting through the new eyeglasses he'd gotten a couple of weeks ago and zlinning whatever he still couldn't see clearly. Since he was on the edge of need, the world seemed etched on his acute senses in vivid detail, in dizzy contrast to the unclear visual images.
Sun glistened off the pavement in the courtyard, stinging his eyes. The buildings were old; the walls surrounding them were made of stone, and they were high.
Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked sullenly, "What is this place?"
"What was this place might be a better question, my friend. Before Unity, it was an outpost of hope in a junct society. Today, it's the administrative headquarters of the House of Zeor, and the place where they send youngsters like you for disjunction, if they're not having too much success elsewhere."
"Zeor. That's one of those-" he stumbled over the unfamiliar word in Simelan "-Households?"
They were across the courtyard now, headed for a large double door.
"Why the walls? Was it used as a prison?"
"The walls were to keep people out, not to lock them in. Don't worry, this is not a prison." The channel seemed vaguely amused at the idea.
"Hmph. Sure looks like one," Frevven retorted. Then they were inside, in a spacious hallway. And the most wonderful, marvelous, absolutely delicious nager was coming towards him.
Abruptly hyperconscious, Frevven tracked the oncoming Gen. He didn't know and he didn't care what it looked like; he only knew what it felt like. Lovely. Oh, lovely. There could never be another one he'd want as much as he wanted this one.
Totally ignoring everyone else, he started down the hall towards this wondrously attractive field. It noticed him and held still, patterns shifting slightly, subtly refusing to mesh with his field. But it was too late. The Gen couldn't possibly get away from him now.
"Stop right there, youngster, or you'll be very sorry. I'll only warn you once."
The Gen's voice held no more fear than its nager, a fact which was somewhat annoying to Frevven. It would change its tune soon enough. And it was warning him? What a laugh! Didn't it know what he was? Didn't it realize he'd killed twice before?
Frevven sprang at the foolhardy creature in a reckless burst of augmentation, sensing the approach of people who intended to interfere. He grabbed the unresisting Gen arms and his laterals slid swiftly into position. He had to get up on his toes to make lip contact, but his prey made no effort to pull away.
I've got it! I've got it! It's mine! an insanely joyous voice shrieked inside the young channel's brain.
Savoring his triumph, he began to draw, anticipating the inevitable moment when the Gen's deceptive calm would turn into lovely, satisfying terror.
Frevven had barely begun to draw when the Gen raised every barrier it had and threw him into slamming shen. Totally astonished, he went rigid with pain as his outraged nerves sent confused impulses to his body and his muscles fought against each other. He blacked out, and was grateful for the darkness.
When he came to, he was in exactly the same place he'd fallen. The wonderful nager was still there, comforting him now and supporting his amateurish efforts to damp the residual imbalances that threatened to overwhelm him again.
"That's it. Easy now, just relax. You'll be all right."
Oh god, that was the Gen! The one he'd just tried to kill!
Frevven whimpered, pulling himself closer to the center of the warm glow surrounding him. Then he realized he was clinging to the front of a heavy woolen sweater and the Gen was holding him in his arms. This would never do.
Frevven pushed the attractive field away from him and tried to sit up on his own. He was dizzy and his head throbbed unmercifully, but he opened his eyes and squinted at the person he had attacked. Although he was still achingly in need, he had not the slightest shred of desire to go after this particular Gen again.
He found himself staring into a pair of very large brown eyes belonging to a man who seemed about ten years older than Frevven himself. The Gen had overly long, thick brown hair, now rather disarranged. He grinned, and Frevven stifled an unaccountable urge to grin back at him. Whoever he was, he seemed like an overgrown kid when he smiled like that, Frevven reflected, beginning to feel better despite himself.
"Truly, I am sorry I had to do that. I did warn you, and I was as gentle as possible."
He had a nice voice, very soothing to a Sime's ravaged nerves. Frevven cleared his throat and wondered if he could possibly say something that wouldn't sound totally stupid.
The other channel saved him the trouble. She knelt alongside him, her black eyes fastened to the Gen. "Frevven Aylmeer, I'd like you to meet Schalchiachaynechtym ambrov Zeor. He's supposed to be my Donor this month, not yours," she added, with an uneasy laugh.
Shen, I attacked her Gen, and she didn't attack me? Frevven thought incredulously.
"Schalchia-?" he ventured tentatively, trying to remember the way the rest of the odd name had sounded. Somewhere near the middle, the "ch" sound changed its pronunciation, but he wasn't sure where.
"Just call me Chaynek, please," the Gen responded, with another of his infectious grins.
Frevven pushed the hateful images resolutely back into a far corner of his mind and locked a door on them. As he zlinned the others proceeding down the hall toward his office, he was forced to admit the reality of what was happening. He crossed the room and lowered himself into his chair.
By the time V'lis and Chaynek reached the door, he had managed a semblance of calm. "Come in," he called, his voice only quavering a little.
V'lis bustled into the room. "Frevven, look who's here! This is my cousin Chaynek Vorlek."
Frevven rose to his feet, attempting to smile with a noticeable lack of success.
"We have already-" he said with an effort, "met."
Chaynek ambrov Zeor regarded the channel steadily, as if he were not quite certain what to expect from him after all these years. "Yes, we have indeed met," the Donor replied. He was low field and couldn't be more than a few days past transfer, but his nager still carried the ambient in the little room, smoothing V'lissia's excitement into a calmer sense of joy. Even low field, Chaynek would draw interested glances from every Sime he met, despite his polite veneer of non-invitation.
Chaynek was older now, but that habitual grin seemed to play around the corners of his mouth, although he kept his overall expression neutral. His nager could never be neutral, at least not to Frevven.
"I was not aware you were V'lissia's cousin, Schalchiachaynechtym," Frevven said carefully. The correct pronunciation of the Gen's full name came easily to Frevven now, causing V'lis to stare at him and flare momentary surprise.
Frevven realized why she had seemed so disturbingly familiar to him all along. If Chaynek were twenty years younger and a woman, it was quite easy to imagine that he would look much like his cousin. The same soft brown eyes, the same shade of unruly brown hair, the same face. And, he belatedly realized, zlinning the two Gens in close proximity, not only did she look like Chaynek, she even felt like him. Much less disciplined, of course, but definitely the same nageric texture. No wonder he was never comfortable in her presence. He should have known what it was long before now.
But what on earth was Chaynek doing here?
Almost as if he had read Frevven's thoughts, the Donor reached into a pocket and handed Frevven a small green card.
Frevven gave the transfer assignment card a cursory glance, not allowing his eyes to dwell on the Gen's name linked with his. Of all the Donors in the Tecton, why in the name of all that was holy did it have to be Chaynek? Didn't he have enough problems already?
"Cousin," V'lis asked, "you're a First Order Donor. How could they possibly assign you to Frevven?"
"The rotation schedules are all fouled up, due to the heavy snow and emergency conditions on the mainland. Roads are blocked, out-Territory Centers are isolated. We've had two deaths already." He fixed Frevven with his soft brown gaze, still holding his nager neutral. "I just had transfer two days ago, so our assignment will be a week early for me. The district controller figured that wouldn't pose a problem, and there was really no one else to send."
"I could have stayed-" V'lis began.
Chaynek shook his head, the tiniest bit of exasperation flickering through his field. "You're in enough trouble already. Even if you weren't pregnant, do you really think Controller Shagoury would pair you with Frevven again and risk your involving him in a dependency?"
V'lis smoldered annoyance, but kept silent.
Frevven had simply stood listening to the entire exchange, trying to digest the fact of Chaynek's presence. Like it or not, the Gen attracted him. Since the first day they'd met, he'd never ceased wanting Chaynek. But he'd never had him. The one and only time he'd had the chance, it had been vitally necessary for him to refuse.
Realizing he still held the green transfer assignment card between two tentacles, Frevven placed it carefully on his desk. "I hope you enjoy your stay on Innsfrey, Sosu Vorlek," he heard himself say stiffly, using the formal title for a Donor. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." He picked up a pen and dipped it ostentatiously into his inkwell, making a show of studying the stack of papers piled before him. But he knew he wasn't fooling anyone, least of all Chaynek.
V'lis made a move to leave, but Chaynek touched her shoulder and shook his head a fraction. Warned by the very slight tinge of unease that filtered through the ambient, Frevven looked up at the two Gens and raised an eyebrow. "Was there something more?" he inquired mildly.
"I'm afraid so." Chaynek reached into a pocket and presented an official-looking envelope to the channel. "I haven't just been sent here to be your Donor. Controller Shagoury is alarmed by the news she's been getting from the islands. I'm supposed to observe the situation and report back to her. If I deem it necessary, she won't hesitate to have you replaced just as quickly as possible."
"Shagoury sent you to spy on me?" Frevven said coldly.
Chaynek laid the envelope on the desk. "The details are all in here. I assure you, it wasn't my idea."
I'll just bet it wasn't! the channel thought bitterly. No, Chaynek was telling the truth, he could zlin that. Or he thought he could. Chaynek had the ability to deceive him, if he wanted to. Frevven knew that perfectly well from past experience.
He struggled to leash his rising temper. "Shagoury has no right to do this. Things aren't so bad here. We've had a little trouble with some of the townspeople, but that's under control."
"Oh? That's not what we've heard. And after what happened with V'lis-" Chaynek shrugged.
"Damnit, that could have happened to anyone!" Frevven snapped. "She can be very persuasive, when she wants to be."
Chaynek said nothing, but he damped V'lis' amusement out of the ambient, replacing it with a deliberate calming effect.
Unfortunately, the Donor's attempt at field manipulation backfired. His field was too low to allow him to impose his feelings on the channel, and it only made Frevven more annoyed to have someone trying to calm him down.
He glared at Chaynek. "I have done just as good a job on Innsfrey as any channel could," he said in icy tones. His eyes locked with the Gen's, daring him to say otherwise.
"You don't belong out here, Frevven. I told the controller that as soon as she informed me of this assignment. If you'd had any sense, you'd have protested being sent out-Territory in the first place."
Frevven's eyes narrowed to slits of greenish-gold fury. "I can do anything any other channel can do."
Chaynek shook his head. "No, you can't. And you'll never be really good at what you do until you stop trying to prove that."
"Since when is it up to you to give me advice?" Frevven asked caustically.
"I helped make you what you are. That gives me a certain responsibility for the results, wouldn't you say?" Chaynek responded carefully.
"You? You never wanted me to be trained in the first place. If it hadn't been for Sectuib Aran ambrov Chanel-"
Chaynek sighed, as if to point out that they'd been over this same ground many times before. "Truly, Frevven, you know perfectly well that I wasn't the only one who opposed your training. The limits of a disjunct channel are in general much lower than those of a non-junct channel. That's a matter of fact. Just because you didn't always test out according to the Tecton's equations-"
Chaynek's nager projected that same mistrust Frevven knew so well from his earlier years. Despite his best efforts, there was always Chaynek, never satisfied, never truly expecting anything from him but failure. And now here he was again. It was simply too much for the channel to tolerate.
"You never believed I could do it, never liked it when I did, and still don't trust me not to kill someone!"
The Gen waited a brief moment before replying. In the silence of the room, a log on the fire crackled and spat out sparks.
"Truly, is it my doubt you so much hate, my dear Frevven? Or your own?"
Frevven stared in shocked outrage at Chaynek, temporarily at a loss for words.
The distant crack of a rifle shot split the silence.
Frevven ran to his window, threw it open, and leaned out, trying to zlin what was going on. Behind him, Chaynek focussed his attention away from the channel, expertly clearing the local ambient and keeping it walled away from Frevven so he could better zlin the distance.
Still several blocks away, excitement and fear filled the street, moving towards the Center. Another shot, and a piercing spike of pain drove through the ambient. Frevven winced.
Then he turned from the window, grabbing his retainers from the shelf and heading for the door. "Someone's hurt! Come on!"
V'lis started after him.
"You stay here!" her cousin ordered shortly.
When Frevven ran out into the street, still struggling to fasten the clamps on his retainers, it was Chaynek's nager that followed him out the door.
Another shot, not far away now. The ambient went hideously bright and then collapsed into a suddenly dark spot in its midst, and then rebounded, all in a split second. Frevven reeled as the deathshock washed over him, glad his retainers cut him off from the worst of it.
Chaynek caught up with him, focussing on the stunned channel with all the power he could muster from his depleted field. Half a block ahead of them, a crumpled figure lay in the street.
"Got 'em!" a voice yelled in triumph.
Frevven shook Chaynek's arm off his shoulder and hurried forward. He could zlin Richt nearby, moving this way.
The small crowd of Gens gathering around the body split wide as the channel approached. A teen-age boy lay sprawled on the cobblestone pavement, his head shattered by a bullet. Selyn leaked from his body in a weak plume, dissipating into the atmosphere.
Frevven blinked and tried to look at the crowd instead of the body. Most of them wore the hooded gray robes of the Watchkeepers. "Why-?"
"He was in changeover," a man's voice said defensively.
"If that's so," Chaynek said, "he was probably trying to reach the Center. He wouldn't have done you any harm."
Frevven waved him to silence. "This boy wasn't in changeover." He knelt, trying not to look at the splatter of blood and brain mixing with the muddy snow in the street. He lifted one lifeless arm. "Do you see any tentacles?"
"Alek was sick. He ran and hid from his parents. That's how it always starts-"
Frevven let his fingers close on the boy's other arm, trying to zlin him as distinctly as possible despite the inadequate contact. The channel almost thought he caught a flicker of surprise from Chaynek that he'd even attempt such a thing under these conditions, but then it was gone and Chaynek had cleared the ambient around them to the best extent he was able.
"Shenshid," Frevven muttered to himself in Simelan, "this boy is Gen."
The surge of suspicious anger in the crowd alerted the channel to the fact that he hadn't spoken in English. He released Alek's arms and rose to his feet, speaking once again in their language. "He was Gen. Established a couple of days ago, at least." He glared at the people surrounding him. "I could have told you that if you'd brought him to one of my clinics. Damn it-"
Chaynek's fingers closed loosely around one of Frevven's retainers. His nager held a warning.
Frevven forced his temper under control. "Alek was Gen," he repeated more calmly. "Probably just had the flu, but didn't know enough to realize it wasn't changeover."
"Liar! Can none of you recognize the devil's voice when you hear it?"
Clarendon Richt strode into the crowd, his fierce self-righteousness taking Chaynek by surprise and swamping the Donor's attempt to control the ambient. Chaynek was simply too low field to oppose Richt effectively, but as soon as he recovered, he tried. Frevven edged over to the Donor, almost backing up against him. Richt gave Chaynek a long look then dismissed him with a shake of his head.
"Uh-Reverend, the Sime claims Alek wasn't in changeover, but you told us-" a hooded woman murmured.
"Of course, he'd say that," Richt cut in with an exasperated snort. "He'd say anything to make you doubt your faith. Are you going to believe a soulless monster who killed his own sister?" he challenged the crowd.
Frevven paled at the mention of Jozanna. Richt's focussed hatred battered at Chaynek's attempt to shield him. Caught in the nageric tug of war between the two Gens, Frevven wasn't sure what to say.
"Have none of you murdered children in changeover?" Chaynek asked the crowd, trying to put Jozanna's death into better perspective.
Reverend Richt turned his attention back to Chaynek, staring at the other Gen appraisingly. "Ah, this is another of their trained puppets. How much have they paid you to sell them your soul, eh? I hope it was worth it."
Nervous laughter from the crowd.
Chaynek started to reply, but a well-aimed and hard-packed snowball hit him in the back of the neck. He stumbled forward a step and momentarily lost control of the fields. Frevven winced as Richt's undiluted hatred washed over him in a cold wave, mixed with Chaynek's quickly damped pain. If only the man were simply a hypocrite, he would be easier to endure. It was his absolute sincerity that hurt so much.
"Turncoat!" someone yelled, shaking a fist at Chaynek.
"Whore!" That was Farika Snow. Frevven could recognize her nager easily, despite the hood covering her face. She held a rifle in her hand.
Richt smiled in satisfaction.
A half dozen Simes and Gens from the Center approached cautiously. The crowd drew back.
"Let us take Alek's body back to the Center for examination," Frevven suggested. "Then I'll be able to tell you for sure if he was in changeover or not." He looked over the crowd, most of them safely anonymous in their Watchkeepers robes. "One of you can come with me, to see that there's no trickery."
"No," Richt said. "Alek died before turning Sime. You shall not desecrate the body of this innocent child with the foul touch of your slimy tentacles."
It was no use. At a gesture from their leader, the Watchkeepers closed ranks around the body. Curious spectators drifted into the crowd, asking each other what was going on. Richt turned his attention to the newcomers as he proclaimed, "We have just demonstrated how well the Watchkeepers can function in protecting this town from berserkers. Bring us your children if you suspect they're turning Sime. These misbegotten creatures you see before you can only save their bodies. We can save their souls!"
"No!" But Frevven's voice was drowned out by jeers from the crowd.
"There is no necessity for a Sime Center on Innsfrey," Richt continued. "We can protect you from the demons, if you'll place your faith in Almighty God and your trust in us!"
Led by the Watchkeepers, the crowd shouted its agreement. At an order from Richt, Alek's body was picked up and borne off towards the church. The street began to empty.
Richt still stood, arms folded across his chest, a slight smile on his face. "Give it up, Simes," he remarked softly. "Go back to your own territory. You and your hired Gens are not wanted here."
He turned on his heel and strode away.
Proceed to chapter 10