Frantically, Alissa crashed through the dense underbrush, knowingany minute they'd catch up with her. It had been four weeks sinceher mother's death. And almost four weeks since she'd established.But it'd only been a week since she'd come out of hiding and madeher dash for freedom. Now it looked as if it was all in vain.
She glanced behind her, pushing at the frozen branches in herway as she continued her desperate flight. She knew if they foundher they wouldn't believe she'd known nothing of her mother'sbusiness, they wouldn't even listen to her because she was a Gen.She'd only be sold for her selyn.
There's no chance left to ever go back, she thought as shestumbled and fell to the hard icy ground.Sucking in a harshbreath, she grabbed her bruised side. She wiped at her stingingface where an errant branch had slapped her and left open woundsbehind. Had it not been for the numbness brought on from the unusualfreezing temperatures, Alissa would have been in severe pain fromher injuries. She silently thank the ice storm that had struckonly days before while she paused on her knees, gulping in deepbreaths of the frigid air. She had to regain her breath beforeresuming her flight.
Her head jerked up at the sound of a twig snapping.
"Oh, shen," she moaned as she looked up into the faceof a young female Sime. The woman was tall and slender with blondehair that was braided and pinned on top of her head. AlthoughAlissa didn't recognize her face as one of the people trackingher, she was still a Sime!
"You're hurt. Let me help you," the woman said as shestarted toward Alissa.
Alissa stood and backed away. "No. Please, no. Let me go."
She continued to back away, confused and wondering why the Simehadn't attacked yet.
"I won't hurt you," the stranger assured, reaching outtoward Alissa.
"No!" Alissa cried and turned to run.
Terror shot through her as strong hands grabbed her shoulders."No! Let me go!" she screeched, desperately trying towrench free from the Sime who was holding her. Voices vaguelyfloated to her as she fought.
"It's okay, calm down. You're going to hurt yourself,"her captor said.
"... is injured ..." one said.
"... running from someone ..." another voice said.
"... zlin Simes not far behind ..."
"... help her escape. Quickly! Get her out of here."
The last voice stopped her hysterics. "Escape? Help me?"
She looked around, trying to locate the last voice. Her eyes fellon two Simes standing off from the others.
"Don't worry," the old grey-haired man said to the youngerSime who was with him, "when I'm gone and you're Sectuib,you'll have learned a few tricks like this. If she's not withus, we don't have to turn her over or help them either. She canescape ..." He trailed off when he saw Alissa listening.
"Run, girl. We'll keep them busy as long as possible."
Staring in disbelief, she watched as they began to form a groupin front of her. Realizing she was no longer restrained, she wastedno time on speculation. She charged through the clearing and intothe underbrush on the other side of the trail and started up thehill. She hadn't gone far when she heard the old man's voice.
"... check our Gens if you want. We don't have the one you'relooking for."
She looked back through the trees down to the clearing she'd justleft. Her eyes widened in shock at what she saw. The people who'dalmost caught up with her were looking over the group of Simesand Gens as they stood there defiantly.
"You lie!" the leader of the search party spat. "She'shere somewhere and you're going to tell us where you've hiddenher, unless you want to die."
"We have nothing to discuss with you. Although you don'tunderstand us, it's known that we follow your laws. We don't have..."
In horror Alissa watched as the Sime silenced the other man witha knife.
She stared, frozen, as the search part began to slaughter thepeople who had bought her precious time. They didn't even havea chance to defend themselves since they were outnumbered. They'dall be dead within minutes and then ... Her head snapped up. Andthen they'll be after me again!
She quietly slunk back through the underbrush, trying to blockout the screams and moans. As soon as she felt it was safe, shestood and began to run. She wouldn't stop this time. She'd keeprunning because she knew what awaited her if they caught her.And anything had to be better than what she'd just witnessed.
* * *
Alissa yelped as she desperately tried to pull herself back upover the ledge she'd slipped on. Her bleeding hands made it hardto keep her grip on the ice. Two days since the massacre and shestill hadn't found her way to safety. After three tries, she finallygot a foot back up on to the icy ledge, cursing the large backpackthat had caused her to lose her footing in the first place. Slowly,she inched her way along until she was on the narrow ledge. Shewiped her bloodied hands on her dress and then brushed her tangledbrown hair out of her eyes as she looked around. Hopefully theyhad not heard her. A lot that would matter. Her field would giveher away to any Sime in the area. She wiped harshly at the tearsof despair that started down her face once again.
"No, I won't cry! Do you hear me?" she whispered aloud.She knew there had to be a Starred Cross Shrine near here. Ifonly they hadn't found out about her mother, she thought bitterlyas she remembered the past few weeks. She would never trust aSime again after what they'd done to her mother and those peoplewho'd helped her. Those people. Who were they? she wondered.She shuddered. It didn't matter. They were dead now.
She thought of going to Keon, but the Simes had that way guarded,thinking she might try to seek refuge with "those perverts,"as they called Householders. Her mother had said Householdersweren't perverts just because they didn't kill their Gens butused them over and over again. But it wasn't a good idea to letyour feelings be known, living so far from the Householding. InSharanth, a city near Keon, people were much more open to theidea of Householdings, but not in Lemeth. Alissa didn't know ifshe agreed with her mother about Householdings.
She struggled to her feet again, adjusting her backpack with ajerk. She wouldn't forget how much extra room it took up nexttime she found herself on a narrow, slippery ledge. Through themoonlight she saw a strange shape. As she peered at it she decidedthat what she saw was not a natural shape. Carefully she followedthe path around to where it widened at the edge of the trees.As she approached, she saw with relief that it was definitelya Shrine of the Starred Cross. It was well hidden, blending inwith the surrounding brush marvelously. Staring directly at it,she could make out the door. She gazed at the path where it curvedaround, almost behind the building, and went on up the hill. Decidingit would be safe to stop, she looked back at the building.
Someone, no one knew who, had built these for Gens escaping fromSime Territory. She could hide there because Simes couldn't zlinthe thick walls. She cautiously approached the door, casting glancesat the brush near the trail, hoping she hadn't been observed.She had no way of knowing, since she couldn't zlin like a Sime.She could rest and heal before heading to the border.
Her spirit sank. The border. What could she expect? She'd heardthe Sectuib of Keon on a few occasions talking about the Householdings.She wished she couldn't asked him some questions. She didn't agreewith their way of life for everyone, including herself, but theSectuib wouldn't helped her find safe passage to the border. Atleast she had hoped so.
They seemed like nice people, but she'd never truly believe HouseholdingSimes didn't really kill some of the Gens they had. There wasjust no way they could go every month without killing some. Andhow they kept from killing all ... Well, there were rumors ...
She shuddered at the thought. She'd been willing, at one time,to learn more about the Householdings, but after her brother'sdeath--thanks to Householders--she knew better than to trust thoseperverts.
Alissa pulled her knife from her book then opened the door andpeeked in. From the moonlight that shone in, it looked all clear.She stepped in and looked around. The room wasn't very large.There were no windows to escape from, only the front door. Thefurniture consisted of a small unstable-looking table, two ricketychairs, and a large box that contained some wood. There were variousmedical supplies stacked on a shelf over the fireplace.
Fearing there might be Simes in the area, she quickly closed thedoor. The room was cast into total darkness. She stumbled aroundin her unfamiliar surroundings until she found the wood box.
After finally getting a fire going, she collapsed on a blanketthat she had retrieved from her backpack, which she'd hastilypacked before fleeing. She then examined her wounds. She didn'thave any broken bones, although she was sure her ribs were bruised.She ached all over, for that matter. Both hands were also raw.Her legs were covered with black and blue murks as well as scratchesfrom her climb. The most painful, though, was the one long jaggedcut on her right leg. She grimaced as she stretched, pulling atthe half-scabbed wound.
And to think how, at first, she'd thought the ice freezing onthe branches and leaves was beautiful. But as she had begun toslip and slid and her clothes had soaked through, she had changedher mind. Her shoes hadn't been made for the slick ground thatshe'd traveled over. It had slowed her down tremendously. Thebranches slapping at her face and hands, which had been numb atthe time, had only hurt mildly. Now, as the feeling returned,her face and hands stung from her encounters with the forest.She'd even thought her fingers were becoming frostbitten, butthey looked all right now.
She went over to the shelf and found some bandages. Wrapping herinjured leg, she washed up and finally dropped wearily onto herblanket. With a sigh, she ran her fingers through her tangledhair, trying to restore some order. She looked more like a dirtychild than an adult. When she was done with her hair she thoughtabout food. But the fire was so warm, and it was so cold and wetoutside ... I'll rest just a little, she thought, andthen I'll be able to fix something to eat.
* * *
Alissa's eyes flew open at the sound of a crash. Fuzzily she lookedaround, noticing the fire had gone out. It was totally dark exceptfor the light coming from the opened door.
She remembered closing that door before going to sleep! She satup abruptly, realizing that the door must have been what wokeher.
As she stared, a tall filled-out body stepped into the shaft ofmoonlight. A man. She started to smile in welcome, then she sawhis forearms. A Sime! And in need if her eyes were not deceivingher in the reflected moonlight. She scrambled up in terror andtried to hide behind the wood box as she fingered the knife inher boot.
He stood silently for a moment before saying, "Don't be afraid."He staggered forward and fell, unconscious, across her blanket.
Paralyzed, she watched him. But the only sign of life was theslight rise and fall of his chest. Very slight. She silently pulledher knife, wondering as she did if she could get close enoughto murder him in one strike. She'd never murdered anyone before,but now, her life depended on it. Cautiously she inched forwarduntil she was near enough to see his still form clearly.
Don't be afraid,echoed in her mind. "He must be crazy,"she muttered. She raised the knife, quivering with what she mustdo. Her hand was stayed by the sight of the ring he wore on hishand. It was the ring of a Householding. She'd seen it once before,years ago. She wasn't sure which Householding he was from, butone thing was certain, he hadn't been with those Simes who hadbeen chasing her earlier, although he did look familiar. Her arm,which had still been poised to strike, slowly lowered. She'd neverseen anyone so tall. Her thoughts quickly changed and her armwent back up in the air, poised again to strike. Could the Householdingsbe after her too because of what her mother had been doing?
She lowered her arm. No, probably not. She examined him closer.His wavy black hair was wet, she assumed from the misty rain outside.His face was bruised and swollen. Although she could see no externalinjuries to account for it, his clothes were bloody. Then shewas reminded of just why she held the knife in her hand when shesaw his arms. She shuddered anew upon closer inspection. No wonderhe had passed out. Angry bruises crisscrossed his tentacle sheaths.Sympathy flooded her for what he must've gone through. She reachedout, then hesitated. She couldn't bring herself to touch him.Nor, she realized reluctantly, could she bring herself to murderhim. She grabbed her blanket and tossed it over the Sime's inertfrom. Getting up she went to the fireplace and started a firethen closed the door, noting she'd slept almost a full twenty-fourhours. The moon was just rising again.
She shook her head in stunned amazement. A whole day gone. Heramazement quickly turned to a guarded wariness as she looked backat the Sime. If she'd awakened before now, she would've been gonewhen he found the Shrine. Now, it was dark again. Since she'dslept the whole day away like a small child on a lazy summer afternoon,she'd have to stay in the Shrine again. But tonight it'd be witha Sime.
When she was done stoking the fire, she backed into a corner whereshe could keep an eye on him until he woke. She wouldn't murderhim after all, thinking that if he survived, he might be ableto help her get across the border. Besides, she would like toknow what a Householding Sime was doing this far away from a Householdingin a Gen Shrine! And in need!
* * *
Alissa jumped with a start as the Sime moved. She'd sat up allnight watching him, just waiting for this moment only to fallasleep. Thankfully his slight movement woke her from her restlessdoze.
"I'm glad to see you finally woke up," she stated flatly.She watched warily as he rose on his heels and smiled at her.
"I apologize," he started and then looked her over closer."But you're injured." He saw the cuts and bruises onher face, hands and legs. "Let me help you ..."
"No! I'm fine," she blurted out, the alarm obvious onher face.
Sitting back on his heels he said, "I didn't mean to frightenyou."
Warily, eyeing and wondering if maybe she shouldn't have murderedhim--he sure did look big now that he was awake--she reluctantlysaid, "I know. You're a ... Householder."
He raised an eyebrow in surprise. "And you don't disapprove?"
"My family lived near Keon." Why was she telling himthis? she wondered crazily. "It's been two years since I'vebeen around Householders though. We moved West to Lemeth."Forcing herself to stop volunteering so much information, sheturned to questioning him. "Where are you from? Betteryet, who are you?"
"I'm Tannon ... Sectuib ambrov Carre," he announcedwith only the slightest hesitation over the word Sectuib. "MayI have the pleasure of knowing with whom I speak?"
"Carre?" she asked, ignoring his own question. "Isthat near here?"
"Not too far," he answered. Very carefully he reachedinto the bag he'd been carrying and pulled out a small pouch."Here," he offered her the bag. "You have to eat.I'll be glad to share my food with you since someone depletedthe supplies here," he said waving a hand in the generaldirection of the shelf where food supplies would have usuallybeen stored. "You're very weak and that's not good for aGen."
She stared at the bag until hunger overcoming he fears, she movedto the fireplace closer to him.
"Thank you," she replied grudgingly as she cautiouslyreached for the bag. "My name is Alissa." If he couldbe civil, so could she. "Do you always travel alone?"she asked, glancing at his arms as she remembered seeing his stateof need last night.
She took the bag without touching him. Her mom had been a Simebut this man was a stranger. She still didn't trust him completely,Householding ring or no. She opened the small brown cloth bagand found fruits and nuts stored inside. Gratefully, she pouredsome of the rations into her lap and then returned the bag toits owner.
"I wasn't alone when I started this trip," Tannon said."There were seven of us. You passed us at our camp. Remember?"
Guilt flooded her as she realized who he was. "You were withthose people who tried to help me. You're the Sime who was standingby the old man I saw murdered."
"That old man was my Sectuib, until he died protectingyou."
"But you said you were Sectuib?"
"I am ... now."
"Where are the rest?" she asked uneasily, sure she alreadyknew the answer. She went over to her backpack and retrieved acup for some tea she'd been brewing wile he was asleep.
"Dead," he said confirming her suspicions. "Theytortured and murdered all of us, except me. When they realizedthey'd murdered our leader, they tortured us one by one untilthey found out I was second in charge. They decided to hold mefor ransom. Since they thought I was too close to death to escapethem, they were lax on security. My guard fell asleep and I, uh,acquired the key from him and escaped. So, you see why I'm alone.It's not by choice. Now, may I ask a question of you, Alissa?"He took the pot from the fire and poured them both some tea whilehe waited for her to answer.
When she didn't say anything, he continued. "How long haveyou been running?"
Alissa drained her cup and set it down. While he refilled it,she tried to for a statement. She stared into the fire. "I'vebeen hiding almost four weeks, but have been out of my own townonly two weeks. I established and a friend advised me that itwas safer to run than hide." That was a close enough explanationfor him, she thought.
He handed her cup back to her. She started to refuse but he replied,"You'll require your strength." He stood and began topace around the small confines of the room. "Why are youon this trail? It's not the fastest way to the border, or to Keon."
She wiped her hands on her skirt before looking up. His gaze madeher uneasy. Cautiously, she replied, "I'm lost. I've beenwandering. I've been lucky so far, but I've got to have help toget to the border." She studied him, thinking again thathe might could help her. He was more relaxed since they'd eaten.She tossed the shells from her nuts into the fire and then glancedback, imploringly, to the man standing a few feet away. "Justsend me in the direction of a family on the Gen side who couldhelp me. I'll try not to be any trouble."
"So that's it," he said. Warily, she watched as he maderoom for some of his rations by rearranging the medical supplieson the self. A flicker of emotion showed on his face but was goneso quickly she wasn't sure what it was. Eagerness then disappointmentat her words? Or perhaps it was annoyance? He walked over andsad down, motioning for Alissa to join him at the table. Whenshe was seated he replied, "I'm sorry, that's impossible.I must return immediately to Carre. I'm late now. Every minutecounts. Oh, how it counts," he mumbled, running a hand throughhis hair.
Alissa was sure the latter hadn't been meant for her ears. Thatdidn't stop her outrage though. He was a Householder. Wasn't helpingGens what Householdings were all about. She had spared his life,but he wouldn't help her? "I can't keep going like this,"she whispered, her fear growing at his words. "Shen! I'mso scared."
When he didn't look at her or offer a word of encouragement herfear turned to anger. "Fine," she said, her hands clenchinginto fists. "I'm so sorry I troubled you. I guess I misunderstoodwhat you were about. I thought you cared about what happenedto us," she said, referring to Gens in general.
In a whirl she grabbed her things and shoved them into her backpack,bent on running for the border alone. She was an adult now. Sheshouldn't be depending on anyone else. It was her responsibility.
So intent on her actions she hardly noticed Tannon stagger, didn'trealize it was from her emotional outburst. She didn't even realizehe reached out for her until a tentacle touched her arm.
Her anger crystallized into fear. "No!" she shrieked,pulling back, darting for the door, things spilling form her half-closedbackpack in her haste to escape the tentacle hand that had reachedout for her.
It did no good. Hands grabbed her. Her cries of terror soundedloud as she struggled and kicked. The past few days flashed inher mind, mocking her as she realized all of her pain and sufferingwere for naught. She was going to die.
Her back thudded against he wall as the Sime pinned her with hisbody. Her stomach churned as the tentacles that held her seemedto burn into her skin.
She waited, despondent.
Quietly, Tannon whispered, "Alissa, channels do not kill.But don't move. Let me ... let me release you. Stay still. Don'trun. I just want to talk to you." He hesitated then she feltthe tentacles loosen and retract until only his hands held herarms. "Okay, Alissa? Will you listen?"
Numbly she nodded, sensing the sincerity in his voice.
He carefully released her. She stared at her arms, unmoving untilTannon shuddered. Then she noted his arms were against his stomachas if he were in pain.
"We do care what happens," he said, referring to HouseholdingSimes. "That's how six of my friends died, remember? Theywere helping you!"
Guilt flooded her as she looked up at his face. He continued,more gently, "Normally I'd help you to the border, Alissa.But I'm without my Companion and approaching hard need. I fearI won't make it back to Carre in time as it is. If you wish toaccompany me there, once we get my problem taken care of, I ...I will arrange for you to find a family in Gen Territory to contact.But you might consider staying with us. We are presently ..."
"No!" she backed away, her emotions, still in turmoilfrom what she had thought was an attack, flaring again with herfear.
"Please," he reached out helplessly in her directionbefore curling his arms back against his stomach. "I toldyou I'm very close to my time for transfer. Your emotions ..."
"Oh," she interrupted him realizing the harm she wasdoing him. She had been so wrapped up in her own difficultiesthat she hadn't noticed his obvious problem was as immediate asher own.
Looking at him now, she saw the same way her mother reacted whenshe was close to need. She lowered her head in guilt. She wasalone, without anyone and in a desperate state to get across theborder. But was his situation any different. He, a Householder,was out here all alone with no Gen in sight. How must he feel?Probably just like her--scared and getting desperate to find safety.Flicking a curious glance at him she wondered what he would doif he broke his pledge not to kill: Suicide? Inwardly she shudderedat the thought. Yes, he was in just as dire circumstances as shewas. She reined in her emotions.
Tannon blinked in surprise. Slowly his arms eased their hold onhis waist and his body visibly relaxed. "How did you do that?"
"You engaged my field, meshing perfectly with it. All traceof your wild emotions--they're gone."
"I'm not sure I understand you. I just know that my mom usedto act like you did."
"You're a natural," he marveled, eyeing her with somenew emotion. "We could use someone like you at Carre. I'lltake you there with me. Besides, it's closer than Gen Territory.You'll be able to relax and take your time about making a decisionto go on to Gen Territory."
"I'm going to the border," she said, a determined edgeto her voice. "Besides," she added, fighting the oddfeelings she got when standing so close to this Sime and the smallleap within her when she had watched him relax because of somethingshe'd done. "I have no guarantee you wouldn't hold me againstmy will."
His eyes widened in shock.
Surely he wasn't surprised by her statement? She understood theneed a Sime had for a Gen She also knew he could easily hold heruntil they arrived at Carre and then turn her over to a Sime ifhe did not kill her himself. He was much stronger and faster thanher. And she didn't like to think he might be able to exert somesort of control over her that made her enjoy what had just happened.But he did look upset. Or maybe he was just upset because she'ddiscovered what he had planned all along.
Before she could say anything he shook his head and let out anexasperated breath. "I think you know better. But if not,you have my word as Sectuib," he said, looking her in theeyes. "We'll proceed as soon as I gather some wood. Yourfield would act like a beacon to every Sime around. Stay in here.You can re-pack your bag." He waved a tentacle at the scatteredcontents just before exiting.
Tannon gathered firewood while Alissa cleaned up inside. She knewhe was still weak, but he'd be able to make it now. Why she cared,she didn't know. Could she trust him? Was he reallytelling her the truth? He took a lot upon himself telling herthat she would travel with him. She shrugged it off. Perhaps travelingwith him might not be a bad idea. Time would tell her if he wasspeaking the truth. She'd just make sure to keep a close eye onhim in the next few days.
He came back with the firewood as she was finishing up inside.She didn't say a word, but picked up her packed bag, placed iton her back and waited.
"Shall we go?" he said, motioning to the door.
They walked out and started around the corner. Alissa paused asTannon's eyes went unfocused. Before she had time to react hehad whirled around toward her and grabbed her arm. "Simescoming!" He pointed to where the trail continued on up behindthe Shrine. He swore under his breath. "The building shieldedtheir approach."
They started back down the trail the opposite way and had justmade it around to the front of the Shrine when they were confrontedby four Simes. Alissa gratefully allowed Tannon to push her behindhim.
Simes loomed before them their faces twisted with hate as theystared down at their cornered victims.
"Well, channel," the one who was obviously the leadersnarled, "we caught up with you. The boss said you mighthead this way. Inside," he said motioning to the door locatedto Alissa's left.
Alissa immediately recognized the leader as the man who had killedTannon's Sectuib in the clearing. She looked at Tannon to seehis reaction, but his face was expressionless. He touched herarm, keeping herself between Alissa and the other Simes. "Goon," he said motioning her inside.
The vigilant looked over his shoulder at he Simes behind him "We'llkeep him here. You two," he motioned to two Simes towardtwo of the other three Simes, "tell the boss where we are.Let him know we've got the Gen too."
He advanced into the Shrine while the woman closed the door behindthem.
Tannon shot her a warning look. She was certain he was tellingher one of the Simes was in need. A knot settled in her stomachas she glanced back at the two Simes across the room. What couldshe do? One thing was certain, she must stay calm.
Once the door was secured the Simes separated Tannon and Alissa.Alissa sat down calmly and waited. She knew if she flared fearthey'd kill her. She hoped the channel could help her. It wasthe only thing that would keep her calm right now.
"So, you found our Gen, did you, pervert?" the man statedas he strutted around the cabin fingering a few of the suppliesthat were left in the sparsely furnished cabin. Tossing Tannona smug smile, he added, "You didn't really think you'd getaway from us, did you?"
Tannon didn't answer. The man pacing was gaunt, his eyes burningwith a triumphant that made her wonder why he was so happy tohave Tannon. Then the woman caught her attention as she beganflicking her tentacles in a nervous gesture. Alissa realized thewoman was eyeing her, her blue eyes filled with hunger--the hungerof need. Her long hair was lank, dull as it hung in snarls, heldback from her face by a cloth strip. She looked as bad as theman, thin, her long arms reminding her of a scarecrow.
"Jared," the woman said impatiently, "you had akill last night. Since we have time to wait, give it to me."She pointed at Alissa, who was still sitting in the corner.
If Alissa didn't know better, she would think the woman was workingherself up on purpose wanting the kill more than needing it, thoughshe could see signs of obvious need. Alissa didn't show how thewoman's obvious tick bothered her though. But she must have allowedthe woman to see the small slither of fear at her words becausethe woman laughed.
"See, it knows. Give me some time to work with it and it'dbe a good kill. Besides, you wouldn't have found him," shemotioned toward Tannon, "if I hadn't remembered this place.I'm sure you'll get a fat reward from bringing him back."
No wonder the Shrine wasn't stocked,she thought. Ithad been discovered. How could I have missed the warning signs?
Tannon's voice interrupted her thoughts. "This woman is undermy Householding's protection. I'm afraid she wouldn't make a goodkill."
"You lie," the woman said. "We know your connectionwith her, Gen-lover." She turned to Jared. "I'll provehe's lying," she grinned, "if you give it to me."
"I'm not sure Antoch would like that. He wanted to questionher first."
Oh, no,Alissa groaned inwardly. Not his group again.If she hadn't known before, she was sure now. These Simes werethe same people who had caused her mother's death. Antochhad been giving her mother problems for awhile before someonehad found out about her secret work. When her mother's activitieshad been revealed, Antoch had been the loudest to clamor for justice.
"I don't see how it can tell us anything. Besides, it won'tbe alive to tell what really happened. Who knows, maybe they triedto escape and we stopped them. The Gen was killed in the process.Anyway, I think Antoch is more interested in the channel now afterhe made us look like fools by escaping. After all, you lost himbefore the boss had a chance to question him."
Jared snarled at the Sime in front of him. "I thought thechannel was too weak to escape. That's why I left that inexperiencedkid to guard him while we celebrated his capture. I knew the bosswould be pleased and could use a Householder who'd helped a runawayGen, especially one who would now be in charge of a Householding.They would've gotten a bonus for bringing him in," he said,throwing a hateful look at Tannon. "It won't be an easy escapethis time, Channel. You're going to pay for what I went throughwhen the boss found out about your escape."
He smiled maliciously as he turned back to the woman. "Ithink I agree with you. Antoch won't care about her death if webring back the channel. Besides, look at the channel's need."He snickered. "Go ahead. Take it," he said, thrustinga finger in Alissa's direction while casting a smirk at Tannon.His smirk faded to one of deadly intent. "But if you're tellingthe truth and it's a Companion, then I'll just have to take careof her, won't I? Remember the other one?" He laughed as hesaw the look on Tannon's face, which indicated he did, indeed,remember the death of his other Companion. "You should enjoywatching this--again," he said sarcastically. He began torummage through his things to find a rope to bind Tannon.
Alissa eased up into a standing position, watching in mountingalarm as the woman slowly approached. She glanced around the roomlooking for escape.
Anticipating her thoughts, the Sime grinned and said, "Don'ttry. You'd never make it. Just come over here to me."
Alissa crouched against the wall, not sure what to do. Could shereach her knife?
She knew Tannon had been watching, waiting to see what he coulddo. She also knew he had tried to warn her with a look, not todisplay any fear or she'd be killed.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Tannon glance at Jared, whowas busy searching for something to bind Tannon with. Then, whathappened next happened so quickly that it would be hours laterbefore Alissa could assimilate it all. In a blur, Tannon had augmentedand was intercepting the woman, just as she lunged toward Alissa.She watched, too astonished to move, as Tannon took her in transferposition. They hit the floor rolling.
Alissa, coming out of her initial shock, scrambled toward thedoor as Tannon and the woman came to rest across the room. Shesaw the other Sime look up. He quickly dropped his satchel, intendingto grab at Alissa to take her in kill position. But he was stoppedshort by the knife in her hand.
She scarcely realized that Tannon had rolled to his feet and crouched,expecting the other Sime to come after him.
The Sime was after her, instead. He lunged, his laterals slitheringout of their sheaths. Trembling, Alissa struck out at the samemoment Jared lunged. Jared stiffened in her arms and his facecontorted in agony. The force of his attack knocked them bothto the floor. Terror gripped her as she heard the other womanscream.
From underneath the still body, she heard a scuffle and a gruntas body met body. There was a sickening thud and the room wasfilled with silence. Too terrified to move, she listened. Sheheard Tannon say with a note of disbelief in his voice, "I'vemurdered a Sime."
Alissa, not understanding, whimpered, her whole body shaking withaftermath. She felt the body of the dead Sime being lifted offher and saw Tannon's battered face looking down at her. The femaleSime lay crumpled in the corner. Alissa curled up in a ball tryingto hold her emotions inside.
In shock, she watch Tannon who was shuddering and looking as ifhe might crumple any moment himself examine the dead man. She'dslashed his left arm--right through the lateral. Tannon touchedhis own left arm, aghast as he stared down at the body. "He'sdead," he told her, swallowing convulsively. Absently hereached for her but she jerked away, still clinging to the knife.The control over her grief and fear crumbled at the touch of histentacles on the very place she would be bruised from the deadSime. Her emotions washed over him unmercifully.
"Leave me alone!" she shouted, then backed up. "Ishouldn't be ... I mean ... you're in need. Time," she whispered."Just a minute," she added. She threw down the knifeand ran outside, giving them both an interval to regain controlof themselves.
When he came out, she was by the woodpile, anxiously scanningthe surrounding hills. And she was calm.
Void of emotion, she stated, "He didn't think I'd do it.Neither did I. But when he reached out, laughing at me, somethingsnapped inside me." She shrugged her shoulders, all the timerefusing to look at Tannon, remembering the look of revulsionand horror as he'd touched his own arm.
"You did what you had to do," he said quietly as heturned toward the trail.
"She mumbled back, "I've never been so scared in allmy life."
He merely nodded. "When you learn a Gen has control overa Sime, you won't fear."
She gave him a sideways glance and decided not to pursue that.She was only going to Carre before traveling on to a differentdestination.
"I suggest we go before his friends get here."
"Will you explain what happened in there?" she asked,referring to Tannon's behavior earlier. She wondered silentlyif she really wanted to know what he'd done to that Sime.
"Later. Now, let's go."
They traveled the rest of the day as quickly as possible. Theice had begun to melt, leaving a muddy slush behind. Alissa hadproblems keeping up because her ribs had been reinjured in thefight. But that didn't slow her curiosity. She didn't stop talking.
Tannon seemed glad she was finally opening up, instead of standingoff and suspecting every move he made. Still, she couldn't bringherself to ask him about the Householding. He respected her unspokenrequest and only discussed the subject she chose. Maybe she wasmistrusting him for no reasons. She couldn't be sure.
It was late that night before they found a small area in the forestwhere they were protected from the wind.
Wear and mud-spattered, Tannon announced, "This will haveto do." Although it hadn't snowed or sleeted anymore, itwas still cold. They could make a bed of leaves and build a fire.Maybe that would keep them warm enough until morning. Alissa wasexhausted and glad he'd decided to stop. Besides, he obviouslywasn't familiar with this area.
Tannon built a fire and prepared some food. She watched him whilethey ate. He kept looking over to her as if he wanted to say something.She still had so many unanswered questions. She was sure he wasdebating on telling her about his morning. She wanted to hearan explanation, but was unsure if she would be hearing the truth.Shen! If only Gens could zlin!
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Tannon set down a stickhe had been poking at the fire and cut his eyes toward Alissa."I promised you an answer earlier today," he said ashe stretched his hands toward the fire, "and I'll explainhow, if you'll let me." She didn't reply but waited for himto continue. "You know that Simes must kill a Gen each monthfor selyn to live."
She shot him an exasperated glance while flicking some dried mudoff her clothes. She wouldn't be running if that weren't the case.
"Well, it's been proven that Gens don't have to die. That'swhy Householdings were developed. This is where channels enterthe picture. We're able to draw selyn from a Gen without killingthe Gen and then give it to a Sime in need."
Alissa shifted closer to the fire, her features blank. She continuedto stare at the fire, waiting to see where he was leading.
"When the Sime came after you, I simply gave her transferinstead of allowing her to attack you." He sobered as hesaid softly, almost odd himself, "She'd be alive now if shehadn't tried to attack you. While I was trying to subdue her,she managed to jerk free, but she stumbled backwards, hittingher head on the fireplace. There was nothing I could do to preventit."
He replaced his somber expression with a searching one.
She only raised an eyebrow in skepticism and he commented wryly,"I didn't know if you could handle giving her transfer soI thought I'd help out."
Her mouth fell open. He was trying to joke with her? shethought incredulously. She let out a sigh. "I suppose whatyou say is possible. But," she held up a finger, "Evenif the woman was trying to kill you instead of me, do you expectme to believe that a Sime who is past his time for transfer couldcomplete a transfer for himself without actually harming a Gen?"She stared at him doubtfully, trying not to let Tannon see thatthis was her real fear.
She met his gaze as he studied her before finally replying, "Wouldyou believe me if I said most could?"
"Most!" She pounced on the word.
He held up a hand. "An untrained channel might not be ableto, but I'm a trained channel and you're not going to be givingme transfer, are you? So, stop worrying and relax!"
Most!she thought silently. Most, he had said. Shetook a deep breath to calm down and turned to her backpack.
As she put the supplies into the backpack he continued, "Nowtell me something. You never did answer my question as to whyyou didn't come to a Householding."
She started to be flippant, then stifled the words and replied,"You won't like what I say."
"Well, I won't know until I've heard it. Why don't you tryme?"
She took the blanket he offered her and pulled it up around hershoulders to try to stop the shivering and then began, "Mymom was executed just before I established."
He looked at her with compassion. "There's more though, isn'tthere?"
"Why was she murdered?"
"She was helping Gens escape to the border."
"That's not all. She owned the local pen. She had begun torelease some of them occasionally. She felt that you per--uh,Householders might be right. She had a secret route where Genscould escape to freedom, or so I was informed by a friend of hers,Leot. She had been doing this for two years and then one day someonefound out. She was convicted." Alissa shivered violently,as much from the memory as from the cold. "They put her ondisplay. It took her days to die of attrition."
She saw Tannon's blank stare. She knew need distanced the realityof what she'd said. Her mother had always reacted the same waywhen she was close to need. She watched as he gently touched hislateral sheaths in sympathy.
"There are people who would say your mom was wrong and thatreleasing Gens wasn't the answer ..."
She fumed and started to argue, but Tannon stayed her interruptionwith his hand. "I didn't say I agreed with them."
With a nod she conceded that he was correct. She had started tojump to a conclusion.
"According to Leot," she continued, "they'd decidedI might know something, so they began a search for me. Leot washere when Mom was arrested. She found me and kept me hidden forover two weeks. She thought she might be able to find my fatheror smuggle me out of the city, but I ruined my chances by establishingonly three days after she had hidden me. We thought about my mom'sescape route but knew it was no longer safe, so Leot tried toconvince me to go to Keon. She didn't believe what my father hadsaid about Keon and said my mother didn't either. So ..."
"Excuse me," Tannon said, raising his hand to interrupther. "What did your father say about Keon?"
Alissa avoided his eyes as she stared up into the starry sky."I had a brother who went through changeover two years ago."She paused to look straight at him. "It was said he was achannel. Oh, not to me, mind you. I overheard it that night twoyears ago when my father left us."
She turned her gaze to the fire and her voice took on an edge."He went to Keon to train with them. Father came home thatnight furious and very drunk. He said he'd found Randel dead.Father said he'd been murdered by the people of Keon because hismother was a Gen-dealer!"
"That's ridiculous!" Tannon shouted, outraged. Whenshe didn't reply, he asked, "Do you believe it?"
"I did for a long time." She hesitated. "Therewere people who didn't like Keon. They harassed anyone who supportedit. My father was one of them. I'm not sure why he hated Keon."She shifted closer to the fire. "Randel was on his way therethat evening because my father wasn't home to stop home. But I'mnot so sure anymore what happened." She stared at her feet,unable to meet Tannon's eyes, unwilling to voice her real fearthat her father or one of his friends had murdered Randel to keephim from reaching Keon.
"Anyway, about my escape," she finally said, changingback to the original subject. "I promised Leot I'd thinkabout it. That night I ran. I was looking for a Shrine of theStarred Cross when I met your group. You know the rest."Teeth chattering, she lay down with her back to him. "I haveto get some sleep."
Tannon lay down to rest. After a few minutes she heard him whisperquietly, "No wonder you hate Householders. How could youbelieve such a blatant lie?" Then he continued, answeringhis own question. "Of course, you mother was murdered bySimes, you think your brother died by Keon's doing, and then youwere attacked by a Sime today ... I guess you do have a reasonto be leery of Simes. But how am I going to break down that barrieryou've erected against me, Alissa?" His words were whisperedinto the wind, obviously not meant for her ears. "You musthave help, but I can' t stand your sudden burst of emotions everytime you misinterpret something I say or do. Besides, if I wantyou as a Companion one day, I have to prove to you that all Simesaren't like the ones you've met."
She heard him let out a sigh and roll over to go to sleep. Waitinguntil she was sure he had drifted off she burrowed deeper intothe blanket and thought about the one-sided conversation she hadoverheard.
He was so certain her father had lied about her brother's death.He seemed sincere. It sounded like he wanted to help her. But,help her to become a Companion? And what did he mean by, AllSimes aren't like the ones you've met?
A thought suddenly occurred to her. Did he realize the whole timethat she had heard? That must be it! Surely he couldn't reallywant her as a Companion.
She wrapped her blanket closer around her, still shivering. Thefire was not helping her rid herself of the chill from the air.
She heard a sigh and then a quiet movement behind her. "Alissa?"Tannon's voice called softly.
She didn't answer.
Tannon shifted and she realized he was moving toward her. Shestiffened. "Alissa, your shivering is setting my nerves onend. We should share body heat if you're going to get any sleep."
When he was inches away she rolled over, into a sitting position,preparing to back away. There were still too many unresolved problemsbetween them for her to trust him completely.
His eyes turned hard, boring into her as his mouth clamped downin a thin, stern line. In an exasperated tone, he snapped, "Don'tyou trust me yet?" He threw his blanket off.
She flinched at his look. She'd done something wrong now if hiseyes were any indication. She decided to bolt. But she got nofurther than a thought because his arms shot out, grabbing her.And not just grabbing her like he had before. His face was twistedup in an awful look of brutal need. His tentacles touched thebruises bringing to memory the other Sime. With a snarl he pulledher forward into transfer position.
She tried to scream but was cut off as he made the fifth contactpoint, lip to lip. She struggled frantically. He knew she didn'ttrust him, she thought almost hysterically. He was done listeningto her complaints. He was going to kill her instead of wastingmore time by taking her back to Carre.
Alissa suddenly realized that Tannon wasn't fighting her. He wasjust holding her there, waiting. Waiting? Waiting for what?Rationality returned and she stopped struggling as her fearsubsided. Slowly, he released her.
"You did that on purpose. You did your best to terrify me!"
"If I can do that when I'm in need then there's no reasonto fear lying next to me," he stated flatly, ignoring heraccusations.
Her face flooded with the heat of her guilt. He'd saved her lifeand spent all day with her while in need and here she was, onceagain, not trusting him. He could've killed her twice now. Hecould have killed her anytime he wanted. Her defenses crumbledand she lowered her head in shame, realizing how much he mustcrave a friend to be willing to help her like this.
"I'm sorry. I always thought it'd be horrible, as a Gen,to be around a Sime."
"Then don't think of it like that. Think of it as two friendswho are stranded."
A sparkle crept into her eyes. "I'd certainly never thoughof it that way." She smiled shyly and lay back down, allowinghim to slide under the covers with her. Sime body temperaturewas higher than Gen body temperature, so it actually felt goodto snuggle up by him. She also noticed something else. Tannonsmelled good. A woodsy scent incomparable to any other fragrance.She smiled and snuggled closer, enjoying the feel of the nicewarm, hard body next to hers.
Tannon groaned. "This is certainly going to be a long night,"he muttered as he tucked the blanket tightly around them.
Had she not been so tired, she would've tried to figure out whathe meant by that. But, as it was, she was asleep within minutes.
* * *
They traveled back toward her city for the next two days and thencut toward Carre. Just two more days and they'd be there.
With each mile Alissa came to know Tannon more and worked withhim to control his need. She was finally beginning to accept him.She noticed that Tannon became less and less talkative until hestopped talking altogether. She knew his need was mounting becauseof how tense he was, and was sure this must be the same reasonfor his silence. But she still didn't like it.
When they stopped to rest, Tannon went and sat on the oppositeside of the clearing from Alissa. This had been going on sincelast night and she'd had enough.
"Tannon," she sad, trying to break the silence, "I'msorry you lost your, er, Companion. I know it must be hard tocope without him." When he only ran his fingers shakily throughhis hair and didn't reply, she said gently, "When are youdue transfer?"
He stood up and turned slightly away. Curious she started forward,but something in his stance stopped her. His face was tight withemotions he couldn't express, his body radiating a tension thatwarned her to tread softly. "I was due transfer yesterdaymorning."
Now she understood. She was glad she wasn't standing next to him.His words shocked her. But not as much as what he added.
"And we're still two days away from help."
She could feel panic rise within her. Her mother would never havebeen in this good a shape. Helplessly she reached out and startedto put a comforting hand on his arm.
He groaned, his gaze swinging around to meet hers. "Don'tdo that," he said harshly. She immediately realized her mistakeand withdrew her hand. He tried to explain anyway. "Yoursystem has begun to produce selyn in rhythm with my need and thecompassion you're showing is inviting me ..."
"Oh!" she said, her blue eyes growing round. She shiftedher feet uncomfortably then turned her concentration back to Tannon,unable to help the need in her that demanded she help. Yet shestayed her distance as he asked.
He surprised her by relaxing slightly. Letting out a slow sighhe said, "Thank you. That helps. I'm not feeling my needas strongly now. You're getting good at it."
"I've been watching you. I can tell when I've got it right."She winked outrageously trying to lighten his words.
He shook his head. "Do you realize how much you've learnedthese past few days? By watching me, you've learned how to workwith my need. If you weren't so stubbornly set against Householdings,"he mumbled, looking out across the land, "you might see howdesperately we require your help. If only you'd consider stayingwith us." Abruptly he stopped talking and let his eyes gounfocused. "There are five riders coming this way. Simes.They're heading away from Carre. Maybe they can help us."
Before she could hide they'd zlinned her and altered their coursetoward the two of them.
She watched them approach "I don't like this. Those horseslook familiar."
Suddenly Tannon stood and said, "You're right. They seemto know you."
"Rustal!" she gasped. "He was with the ones whocalled for my mother's arrest!" She turned to run, but theothers were already upon them. Alissa backed closer to Tannon,not sure what to do next.
"Let me try, Alissa," he whispered quietly before turningto the Simes. "Is there something we can do for you?"he questioned.
"The girl belongs to us," the one called Rustal replied."She disappeared a few days ago, and we've been looking forher. I'm glad you found her. If you'll just turn her over to us."
"I'm sure there must be some mistake. As you can see, we'retraveling together. Perhaps if you send someone back to your leaderto confirm this, we'll be able to straighten things out."
"I think not. You'll accompany us to our camp over the hilland discuss it with Antoch. We're not foolish enough to separateagain after what we found at the Shrine. Besides, I'm not sureanymore which one of you Antoch is more interested in. You'vegiven him cause for revenge."
Seeing no choice since they were surrounded, Tannon and Alissaallowed themselves to be led over the hill.
"Who's Antoch?" he questioned softly. "Twice nowI've heard his name mentioned."
"He's unofficially in charge of the area. He has power thathis friends help enforce, and the fear of most of the people,so whatever he says is usually done. He'd been trying to get Momto deal with some Licensed Raiders, I think. She never told meall of it. All I know is that he hated Mom since she was sympatheticto Householdings." Alissa glanced around nervously. "Whatare we going to do?"
"I'm not sure. I was hoping to buy us some time and waitfor an opportunity to present itself for escape."
"Hey, you! Quiet!" barked one of the soldiers. Alissalooked up in anger and then turned her attention back to the manby her side, trying to shield him from the wildly fluctuatingemotions of the other people. He was definitely looking bad. Hecouldn't make it much longer without a transfer. He had to getback to Carre.
When they arrived at camp, they found three other Simes sittingaround a fire. "So, you were heading to Carre," a femalevoice said, stepping up to where Alissa could see her.
The Sime was tall, fleshy, which was unusual for a Sime. Longblack hair hung down to her waist in flowing waves. Her clothes,dark, fit her body, evidently tailored just for her. And Alissaknew of only one woman who looked as this woman did. Her stomachturned. "Mileth? You!" she gasped when her fears wereconfirmed. "But you were my mother's friend! And you betrayedher!" Not waiting for her to confirm or deny it, she criedout, "Why?!"
"Quiet," one of the guards interrupted, pushing herforward roughly, causing her to stumble and fall. Pain radiatedup her arm when her hand met with a sharp rock. She sucked ina harsh breath.
She saw Tannon brace himself, unsuccessfully trying to keep fromreacting to the pain of her fall. She cradled her hand and watchedas he pulled himself back down duoconscious to try to hear whatwas being said.
"... one of those perverts form Carre. You can see he's inhard need now. I say we take them both back to town."
"He was helping her," one of the other guards pipedup. "He could be accused of helping release the pen Gensand that would cause all kinds of problems for the Householdings."
Alissa watched as Antoch paced around them. She didn't like thelook on his face as he studied them. When he'd made a completecircle, he stopped in front and zlinned them.
Alissa pulled slightly against the guard holding her. It did nogood against his iron grip.
Antoch began to laugh. "I think you're right in your observationabout the Householder," he said to the guard.
He grinned maliciously as his gaze traveled to Tannon. "Iwonder how much better our evidence would be against your peopleif you kill a Gen, too?"
Alissa looked at Tannon's blank face with a sick feeling. Theymean me! She began to struggle, which elicited laughs fromthe surrounding people.
"I don't think your Gen likes my idea, pervert. What do youthink?"
When Tannon didn't answer he continued, "I give you eighthours, twelve at the most before you take care of our little problemfor us." He shot Alissa a glance. "And then when she'sgone, we can bring you before the people as an example of whata true Householder is like."
He turned his back on them and started toward Mileth, ordering,"Put them in the cage together." Looking back over hisshoulder, he called to Tannon, "You'll have plenty of timeto think about what you've done to me and what I'm going to doto you before you finish her off. Then you'll have to tell meif protecting one Gen was worth the fall of your entire Household."
"Wait!" Alissa shouted, pulling against the men whowere starting to drag her off.
"Just one question, Mileth," Alissa continued as Antochturned back toward her. "Why did you betray my mom?"
"Your mom?" She smiled. "I only befriended yourmom to help Antoch. When she refused his deal, Antoch wanted tofind a way to get the pen away from her. Not only did he finda way, but he was able to get rid of her too. I told Antoch ofmy suspicion that you might have overheard something, so he decidedit would be safer if we questioned you. If we found out that youdid know anything, we'd just have to see to it that you had aconvenient accident. Instead, you turned Gen." She laughed,then turning to the guard said with a casual wave of her hand,"Take them away."
The guards grabbed them, hauling them over to the covered wagonwere they tossed them in the cage that was located inside.
"How do we escape?" she questioned Tannon as she lookedaround at the bars. There was barely enough room for two peopleto sit, let alone move around. She looked at the supplies in thewagon. There was some pots and pans hanging on the wall. Foodwas stored at the front of the wagon and the bedrolls were keptnear the back. There was nothing from the supplies that couldhelp them.
Tannon closed his eyes and leaned his head back as he attemptedto stretch. "I don't know," he said, running his handthrough his hair. "Alissa," he continued without openinghis eyes, "it's getting close to the point where I can'tcontrol myself. You must do your best to keep a secure hold onyour emotions. I won't kill you," he added quietly, "butI wouldn't want to hurt you either. If I thought you could, I'dtake transfer from you now. But you're not ready and there'sstill a chance we might escape."
Alissa attempted to laugh. "No problem. We've been togetherfor days. I know you wouldn't try--I mean--that is, you said youwere--well ..." she trailed off and then repeated, "Noproblem," realizing she'd failed miserably in trying to encouragethe both of them.
Since Alissa's ankles were so small, she pushed them through thebars up to her mid-calf and stretched out. They talked very littlethe rest of the day. They sat in the swaying wagon, ignoring thetaunts and jeers of the guards whenever one would ride withintheir line of vision behind the wagon.
Alissa was silent throughout their tauntings. She knew the bestway to ignore them was to keep her concentration on the Sime besideher, so she did just that, working with him to control his need.
Thinking he was asleep, Alissa began to fidget. She was stiff,hungry, and filthy, not to mention she had to go to the bathroom.But the way things were going, it wasn't going to get better soon.
"Alissa?" Tannon's voice was a low whisper.
Alissa glanced over at Tannon in surprise. "I thought youwere asleep. Did I disturb you?"
He shook his head. After a short pause he continued, "I mustask you for your help.
"Am I going to like this?" she asked uneasily. She couldfeel the tension rolling off him in waves.
"There's something I can do that will temporarily help mewith my need." He looked out the back of the wagon that wasplodding slowly along. But Alissa didn't think he was seeing thetrees and clouds or feeling the wind. He looked a hairs breathfrom breaking. He held himself so rigid so very carefully thatshe was certain if she jumped at him he'd attack her. She heldherself still and waited.
"It's called an internal shunt."
Just the sound of it sent shivers up her spine. "An internalshunt?"
He nodded, his tentacles moving restlessly as he sought wordsto explain. Alissa doubted he even realized the telling sign."What it does it allow me to force selyn from my secondarysystem--my channel's system--to my primary system, the one thatcauses my own need."
Alissa thought on what he said. She imagined it must be somethinglike a blood system where one took blood from the heart and theother back ... they connect with capillaries. The channel's systemmust be connected somehow that he could do this. It didn't soundtoo hard. But requiring her help gave it that ominous feel. Sheweighed her options. Really, there were none, not for Tannon.He had to have this. With a sigh of surrender she asked, "Whatmust I do?"
"Not much." He hesitated and glanced over at her. "I'llhave to take your arms--your right with my right, your left withmy left--and wrap my tentacles around them. But I'll let you makethe fifth contact point."
As he watched Alissa pale, he reassured her, "You won't feela thing. I won't be taking selyn from you, but simply transferringselyn that I already have in storage in my secondary system tomy primary one. I wouldn't even attempt this if I thought youcouldn't handle it. But you've gotten comfortable with me thatI thought maybe ... you've got to be comfortable with the ideatoo. You could hurt me badly if you're not readyto try it."
She could hurt him? What an odd idea, one that stunned Alissa.She would not have been as stunned had someone whacked her witha two by four between the eyes. But Tannon required this. He wasvulnerable and had to have her help. Alissa took a deep breathand nodded. After all, how many times had she had his tentaclesaround her arms or touching her in the last days since they'dmet. "I think I can handle it."
"You've got to be certain!" He looked at her intently."It won't be much different from what I did by the camp fire.Are you sure?"
Alissa's mind flashed back to that night when he'd tried to scarethe bejeezes out of her--she still believed he'd purposely scaredher. But she remembered more, the way she had struggled and he'dnot forced himself on her. Confidence flooded her. "I'm sure."
She extended her arms hesitantly, not sure what to do.
Tannon very carefully took her arms in position. With an encouragingsmile--as encouraging as a Sime in need could give someone he'djust put his trust in that didn't have any idea what she was doing--hesaid, "Whenever you're ready, make contact."
Alissa waited only a moment before leaning forward and touchingtheir lips together. She stayed very still and waiting, not surewhat to expect.
She felt strange in this Sime's grip. She'd thought the only Simeshe'd ever touch would be her husband. She'd had all kinds ofromantic ideas about what type of Sime she'd marry and what shewanted. Things had changed drastically. She was a Gen, on therun afraid of the very thing that was now happening. Yet she sathere passively and allowed this Sime to touch her. And she wasn'tfrightened. She felt she had learned so much, knew so much more.She knew without selyn transfer there couldn't be death. And Tannonhad reassured her he wouldn't draw any selyn. And Tannon wouldn'tlie.
Tannon loosened his grip and moved back. Alissa sat still, waitingfrom some signal that he was okay and she could relax.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, he opened his eyes andsmiled slightly. "Thanks."
Alissa grinned, feeling like she had just climbed the highestmountain the world. She leaned back against the bars of the smallcramped cage, knowing she had just taken a major step in understandHouseholdings better.
* * *
Just after sundown the group made camp. Alissa and Tannon listenedto comments from their captors until the last ones had fallenasleep.
Sleep for Alissa came hard. her mind kept going to what was waitingfor them down the road. When exhaustion finally did overcome her,she slept restlessly.
When she woke early the next morning, she was shocked at the sightof the Sime next to her.
Tannon's eyes were sunken and his face tight with strain. He'dgone as far as he could go. She instinctively knew that, but couldn'tbring herself to offer him transfer. Whatever pride at her accomplishmentsyesterday left her as she gazed at this new stranger before her.She was not a Companion despite what he'd teased her with.Internal shunts were on thing, but giving selyn another. Iwouldn't' know what to do, she argued with herself. How trainedwas he? Had he ever had to take a transfer from an untrained Genbefore? Was it even possible? And if he had, did the Gen live?Or did he know from his own experience that an untrained channelcould kill?
She clamped down tight control on her wild thoughts. Shootinghim a glance she saw the stranger that sat there. His eyes lookedfeverish with need, staring sightlessly as his tentacles lashedand trembled. His lip looked bloodied from where he had bittenit at some time during the early hours. His fists were clenchedtight. He was using selyn just trying to keep himself in controlshe realized.
Despite all the differences in looks and actions, she realizedthis was still her Tannon, her channel underneath it all. Thatone word spoke it all. Tannon was a man of control. Despite hishard need he was trembling with the control he exerted. He wouldrather die than hurt her. She couldn't let him die. He'd savedher life, lost his Companion because of her and was now beingtaken to almost certain death because of her. He'd twice beenin a position to kill her and hadn't. She must do something.
"Tannon," she said, breaking the silence.
He glanced at her, then fixed his attention on a point in thedistance.
"Sectuib," she said, using his title, "let me helpyou."
Tannon's desperate look turned to amazement as brown eyes lockedwith blue. "You're offering yourself to me in sacrifice?You've been attack and nearly killed by a Sime and shown fearevery time one gets too close. True, you've been more relaxedaround me lately. If we only had more time," he gasped suddenlyand his fists clenched. Sweat broke out on his forehead as hetrembled. "If," he said, more weakly, "we onlyhad time, I might ... accept your offer. But I don't think youcan handle it. I'm not willing to risk your life to find out either.I won't allow it," he finished flatly.
They exchanged no more words as they waited for the Simes to finishpacking and leave.
Tannon trembled, his breathing harsh in the silence in the wagon.His arms were wrapped against him and he was almost doubled overthem as if protecting his laterals or as if he were in great pain.She had to help him, but how?
The guards were just finishing up when Tannon's eyes lost theiralertness. His head shot up. Zlinning, he said, "There'sa group of Simes and Gens in the distance. They're coming thisway," he announced.
"What?" she said, trying to see what he'd zlinned. Itdidn't matter. She believed him.
At that moment the wagon lurched forward. They heard yelling fromthe scout. Their captors evidently knew more about who was behindthem than they did. The wagon was bouncing at top speed.
"What are we going to do?" she shouted over the noise.
Tannon didn't answer. He closed his eyes, curling up in a ballas they continued to bounce down the road. Then the unthinkablehappened. The wagon lurched and a heavy metal pot came crashingdown on Alissa's outstretched foot. She screamed in pain.
Tentacles touched her arms. Her head jerked around in surpriseto see Tannon, hyperconscious wrapping tentacles about her forearms.The feral snarl that was emitted from his lips as he started tolean forward turned into a whimper of agony as he fought his instinct.
His laterals licked out of their sheaths and trembled. He wasfighting desperately to hold back.
Channels don't killechoed through her mind. He was dying.She could see it etched into him. If she shenned him he'd die.There was no doubt in her mind that if he didn't have what heneeded right now Tannon would cease to exist. She knew the momenthad come to trust him or let him cease. Compassion for him floodedher and she allowed everything she was feeling to show in herfield.
It felt so right. For days she'd been holding back, guarding everyemotion. But she had to have this just as much as Tannon, shesuddenly realized. She was aching with the desire to help him.It was all the encouragement Tannon needed. With a low animalisticgroan of surrender he jerked her arms forward. She came up againsthim willingly, making the fifth contact point.
Their lips touched. He initiated the flow. There was no fear,only a joy knowing that she could help this Sime. She began topush all that was in her out to him , faster and faster, encouraginghim to take more and more, faster. She felt a rush and then anexploding light as everything went black.
When she opened her eyes, she was being cradled in Tannon's lap.He was sobbing. She knew he sobbed for all the people he lost.He was so post he probably didn't even realize they were stillin the cage racing along at a death defying speed while he cradledher against him so tight that he almost cut off her air supply.He called out many names, including Joerth as his sobs soakedher shoulder. She held him, running her hands over him in anycomfort she could give. Slowly his mood changed, he was no longercrying as if his heart was breaking in two, but nuzzling her neck,sighing in a quiet way that awoke unknown feelings in her.
Puzzled and a just a tad aroused, she pulled back and cast hima questioning look, embarrassed to admit she had no idea whathe wanted, and embarrassed to have to remind him just where theywere. He had evidently forgotten or was feeling no pain from thejostling. She opened her mouth to remind him, but her sentencefaded at the look on his face.
"You ..." he attempted, staring at her with wonder.Shaking his head as if to discount something he finally whisperedthe only important thing to him at that moment, "Why?"he asked.
She shrugged. How could she explain the overpowering emotion thatdemanded she give him something only she could give. How couldshe explain what it had been like to see him so vulnerable toa Gen? She couldn't. He wouldn't believe her. Finally, she said,"I--You were going to die. You helped me." Then sheadded a bit more of what she had intended not to share. "I'venever felt anything like that." Her voice quivered as shelooked up at him. "Does the Gen always pass out?"
"No." He grinned ruefully. "You tried to give toomuch. I jerked control back at the last moment to break contact.Besides," he said a slow smile curving his mouth, "I'venever been so ... um ... replete I guess would be a good word."
At her questioning look he shrugged. "I've never felt thateither. Does that help? It was very ... satisfying."
Suddenly the wagon tipped, tottering toward the right hand sideof the road then without further warning went over the edge ofthe hill, talking the cage with it. Evidently the driver had takena curve too fast. Tannon only had enough time to grab Alissa andshield her before they were tumbling head over heels down theside of the hill.
Stunned it took them a minute to realize they had stopped rolling.They tried to untangle themselves but paused, arrested by thescene being played out above them.
The Simes who had captured them had stopped and formed a lineto block the oncoming group. Tannon smiled triumphantly. "Householders!I recognize Kalen. He's the one wearing Keon's colors."
Antoch and Mileth watched as the Householders dismounted. "I'venever seen Householders attack," Antoch said to Mileth ashe watched them form a line between them and the cage until theywere forming a protective barrier for Alissa and Tannon.
"You're bluffing!" Antoch shouted. He shifted uneasilyin his saddle as they continued to stand there, obviously unsureof what to do. The decision was taken from Antoch as one of hismen shouted, "it ain't worth it," and rode off at agallop. Almost as one, the rest of his people followed.
Antoch, in a rage not only because the Householders had interferedin his personal business but because they had bluffed his meninto deserting him shouted, "You'll pay!" He shook hisfist at the Householders. "One day I'll see to it that youpay for this!" He turned his horse and galloped off afterhis men who were well down the road.
Some of the Householding group, including Kalen, rode over towhere the cage had come to rest.
"Tannon, could you use our assistance?" Kalen question,smiling as he looked at the mud-covered Sime who was barely recognizable.Alissa was sure Kalen had to zlin him to know who he was.
"Very funny, Kalen. Get us out of here. By the way,"he asked, puzzled, "What are you doing out here?"
"Looking for you. When you didn't show up on schedule, wesent out people to search the surrounding areas. We feared there'dbeen some mishap." He glanced around. "Where's the Sectuib,or Joerth? Joerth is still your Companion?"
"It's a long story," Tannon said quietly as he leanedback against the cage. "Go help the others and find a keyto get us out. All I want right now is a bath, preferably at Carre."
Kalen chuckled as he walked away.
When everyone except the one man working on the door had left,he turned to Alissa. "What'll you do now?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe I'll go with you to Carre, if the invitationis still open. I could use a bath too." She grinned and lookeddown, fingering her filthy clothes.
He stroked her cheek gently, smiling back at her. "It'llalways be open," he said huskily. The door swung open asif on cue. He waved his arm toward the people around him. "I'msure they'll agree."
They stepped out. Alissa was limping as Kalen strode back over.He looked from one to the other, zlinning Alissa's field.
"You had transfer with her!" Kalen questioned, eyeingher in disbelief. "She's so low ... man," he whispered."And she's not a Householder!"
"I'll explain later. Let's just go home." He smiledas he took Alissa over and swung her upon a horse. Mounting behindher he leaned forward and whispered, "I've a place I wantto take you, a place were you'll no longer have to run, a placeyou can learn what you must do, a place, I hope, you'll soon callhome."
Alissa only smiled.
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