LORTUEN

BY JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG

INTRODUCTION

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Jean Lorrah has pointed out that those of you reading "Lortuen"before reading Unto Zeor, Forever may become confused overthe Digen Farris characterization.
"Lortuen" was written as a short story (I think it'sin the novella class by official Nebula rules, but I'm not sure)but it was always intended to be a piece from the middle of anovel. I've known Digen rather well: as a child, during changeover(there are a couple of vignette type pieces scattered throughoutAZ somewhere), as a teenager, college student, and here,as an adult of sorts, as well as in "Operation High Timeas a grandfather. I suspect Digen will become to the Sime serieswhat Regis Hastur has been to Darkover.
Digen has evolved drastically during the last two years or sowhile I've been writing UNTO and studying under MZB's exactingguidance. His character undergoes swift growth even amongst thevarious drafts of UNTO.
In "Lortuen," he's an overgrown 28 year old teenagerwith a bad crush on Melody, a condition aggravated by the factthat a channel's body can make sex a life-or-death matter, especiallyfor a Farris. Simple human emotions -- for Simes are nothing morethan human beings with problems -- can make sex a very complexbusiness.
By the time UNTO was finished, Melody faded into nonexistence.I had learned how to tailor the secondary characters in a storyto the main character's karma. I had also learned various techniquesfor conveying information to the reader without long conversationsbetween characters. So I started over with a vastly matured Digenand generated a whole new world for him to live and learn in.
I suggest that readers approach "Lortuen" as much asyou would approach Kraith or any other STAR TREK fanzinestory -- as alternate universe to the "official" universe.This Digen not, repeat not, the same person you will meetin Unto Zeor, Forever. Rather he is Digen as Digen mighthave been had certain events been different. Westfield, however,is virtually the same in each universe, though less specificallydescribed in UNTO.
How did "Lortuen" evolve to become Unto Zeor, Forever?
By the time I had finished Star Trek Lives! and was lookingaround for something to do next, Debbie Goldstein, Carol Lynn,and Marion Zimmer Bradley had all read a faded, tattered carbonof "Lortuen" and had been terribly stricken with thechangeover scene in it. That was the most powerful scene, oneof my primary reasons for writing the story, and I was inordinatelypleased that Debbie had said she "went through changeover"in the scene herself. MZB and others had had similar experiences.
I couldn't leave all my friends in need like that. I tackled "Lortuen."And I had about a six-inch stack of notes on what I wanted todo with the novel. Steve Goldin had read it and commented that"there's a novel hidden in here somewhere" and I believedhim. Turned out, he was right.
By August, 1975, I had 12 inches of notes. MZB stayed over onenight on a flying trip to NYC -- an autograph party on the publicationof Heritage of Hastur -- and, as I say in the intro toUNTO, she forced me to define the sharper edges of thebook I had actually started drafting.
The first draft was 260 pages, 4 chapters, and bogged down inbad plotting. I tossed it and began again. The working title was"Sime Surgeon" and ran to 50,000 words.
"Sime Surgeon" went the round of my critics and cameback in tatters. Pondering, and working on MZB's lessons, I finallyunderstood what was wrong with "Sime Surgeon" -- manythings were wrong with it -- and simply set the second draft asideand told the story again, without looking at the old manuscript,working with what you might call "second generation"characters -- the same people, but matured through the writingof the second draft.
That is third draft, Unto Zeor, Forever. It is essentiallythe same story as the final draft, differing only in details andbackground implications, possibly in sharpness. I cut some 6,000words from the final 4th draft of the book to 144,000 words totalfor published Unto Zeor, Forever.
In the year and a half it took me to write that book, I feel I'vegrown 10 years worth -- something like First Year Syndrome.
I hope this explanation helps your understanding and enjoymentof what is to follow.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
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LORTUEN

Digen Farris sat alone amidst the steaming hubbub of the SimeCenter cafeteria and thought, in blissful misery, how wonderfulit is to be in love. And how dreadful it is to be in love witha girl as unattainable as the sun and as warmly desirable.
Absently, he massaged his bared forearms to relieve the tinglingache in his lateral tentacles. He'd been wearing retainers toomuch lately and the pain was becoming constant. The delicate,nerve-rich laterals were the primary organs of the Sime awarenessof the selyn nager of nearby Gens, and they were normally unsheathedonly in selyn transfer.
During the Sime wars, the Gens, the Generators, had designed theretainers to deprive their Sime prisoners of selyn sensitivity,and at the same time, immobilize all their tentacles, thus protectingthemselves from Sime attack. The currently approved model, requiredin all Gen-controlled public places, was as crude and painfulas the original.
To take his mind off physical misery, Digen watched Melody moveback and forth behind the steam table, occasionally brushing atthe wisp of honey blond hair pasted to her damp forehead underher white cap. Four days a week, she came to serve lunch to theSime Center staff, and she worked harder than any other Gen volunteerof the Sime Center Auxiliary. She was shorter than Digen's sixfoot two, but where Digen was typically Sime, slight, wiry, almostdelicate, she had a solid Gen build, though the only reliableway to distinguish Sime from Gen was the Sime's tentacled forearms.
The true origin of the splitting of the race into Sime and Genwas forever lost in the crumbling ruins of pre-Sime civilization.Perhaps it was the result of a weapon, or maybe a side-effectof a widely used drug, or simply an act of God.
Whatever the explanation, the Simes were here to stay. The geneshad permeated the whole human race so that thirty percent of thechildren of two Gens were Sime and thirty percent of the childrenof two Simes were Gen.
It had happened almost overnight. Thousands of teenagers had becomefeverish, developed tentacles and a ferocious need for selyn,often killing their own parents for that need. The first Simesto survive changeover lived as savages in the wilderness preyingon Gens.
As more and more children went through changeover, society rippeditself apart. Millions starved as cities were abandoned for smallstockaded settlements. Gens waged a vicious war of extinctionagainst the Sime abomination, forcing the Simes to withdraw intoisland territories all over the world to create their own wayof life.
Redevelopment was not at all orderly, but was possible only becauseof the channels like Digen, himself. Outwardly identical withthe ordinary Sime, the channel seemed to be the next stage inperfecting the Sime mutation. Digen reflected proudly that itwas an ancestor of his, Rimon Farris, who first discovered thathe had the channel's ability to take selyn from Gens without killing.
Rimon Farris had gone to the pens where Gens were bred and raisedfor Sime use. It was a day early for him, his monthly need wasn'ttoo acute yet, but he had to leave on a journey and thought itbest to get it over with.
As he walked the rows of filthy cages, stuffed with the quiveringhumanity that would be dispensed that day, it struck him thatthese creatures were human beings, too. Their distant cousins,living in freedom, had a civilization as creatively dynamic ashis own.
He stopped in front of one of the cages to examine them with newunderstanding, and his eyes met those of a young woman. It tookonly a moment and he was hopelessly in love. As hopelessly inlove, Digen thought, as he, himself.
And love, Digen brooded, was more of a problem than a blessingfor both of them. Rimon Farris could save only one of those poorwretches from certain death by the end of the day. But, he wasin need himself and would inflict death whether he wished to ornot. If not today, tomorrow for sure.
But he couldn't stop himself. He gestured to the keeper, and intwenty minutes he was on the clean, sunny street leading his newpossession by a chain and collar as he had every month all ofhis adult life. They had cleaned her up and dressed her in thesimple, white cotton robe, but this time it was different.
He set out on his journey, riding his horse, leaving her to walkbeside as he held her chain. He was determined to put it off aslong as possible. He could have no sexual desire until he'd hadher selyn, and after that he would not have her; she'd be beyondreach ... dead.
When he could put if off no longer, he approached her reluctantly,sick with the knowledge of what he was about to do. And she understoodhis reluctance and his need. They had no language in common, yetshe understood.
Digen wondered morosely why his Gen didn't return his love withsuch sensitive understanding. After all, they had not onlya language, but also a society in common, if not a culture.
Rimon Farris was the first channel, so he was completely untrained.He'd killed many times. Digen had never killed, and never would.
But Rimon Farris had been lucky. His Gen had initiated contact.She was unafraid, that was the important key. She loved him andwanted to give him selyn. He didn't want to take. He fought himselfthe whole way, taking tiny increment by tiny increment, with,what seemed to him, infinite slowness. And when it was all over,his need satisfied, she still lived.
Then he loved her with unrestrained passion, fully and deeply,the first Sime to know the particular joy that comes to Sime andGen only at such a time. And she had become the famed ancesstressof the Farris clan. In the unusually prolific Farris family, thechannel gene proved dominant, and all seventeen of their Simesons and daughters had the ability and transmitted it.
And now, Digen Farris wanted to know that joy and transmit hisgenes. He wanted it as he'd never wanted anything before in histwenty-eight years of life. And he was afraid it would be thefirst thing he'd really wanted that he'd never have.
He watched the line before the steamtable progress slowly, butsteadily, and calculated. Yes. There was still a chance to talkto her before he had to shackle his tentacles with the cold, clumsygauntlets and trudge next door to the Gen hospital.
He feasted his eyes on her and told himself for the hundred-thousandthtime he was a channel first, a Sime second, a doctor third, anda Farris fourth.
He'd wanted to he a doctor. All channels were physicians underSime law, but the Gens could perform medical miracles with a knife.He'd wanted to be a surgeon and combine the best of both sides.In another two years, his internship would be over. Two yearswasn't an eternity. At least, it hadn't been until four monthsago when he met Melody Thrice.
She was a Gen, from a Gen family, but she was a regulardonor, if only GN-class. Perhaps, within the next two years, hecould somehow persuade her to try for TN-3, the least skilledtechnical class donor. But, he was a very skilled channelrating a QN-1. It would be a long time before he could train herto be his equal, opposite number, a TN-1, and they would havethe freedom of each other. Until then, the barrier between themwould remain insurmountable.
How could he wait two years!? It was a cry in his heart, an appealto the heavens. But, he would have to manage. No Gen hospitalallowed married interns. They were all as regimented as monasteries.And they weren't about to break that rule for any Sime.
The last of the lunch crowd had passed Melody's station, and shestood backhanding the wisp of hair from her forehead and lookingexhausted and ravishing. Finally, her eyes met Digen's and shesmiled.
She took a tray and assembled a lunch from the Gen foods sections,marked with a white strip along the edge. Digen went to carryher tray, inviting her to his table with a gesture, not tryingto talk over the din. It never occurred to him that those watchingwere joyously planning his wedding.
When she was seated at the tiny table for two, Melody fussed hernapkin into her lap and carefully rearranged her utensils. Then,biting her lip, she hesitated, "Ah ... Digen ..."
"Yes?" Digen said. Her voice was a soothing caress tohis retainer-irritated nerves. Digen loved the way she tiltedher head down, so she seemed to be looking up out of the depthsof her soul with sincere shyness.
"I'd like to ... well ... ask your advice about something,that is, if you don't mind?"
"Whatever wisdom I may possess is yours for the asking."
After a moment, she began to spoon her soup, almost sorry she'dbroached the subject. Digen watched her neatly manicured fingers,aching to lay tentacle to the white half-moons of the thumbnails.Even her hands were unbearably attractive.
She started again, "Can you keep a secret?"
Digen smiled, "Professional qualification. Both professions."
Melody chuckled. "Yes, I suppose so. I'm sorry." Hersteam-reddened skin flushed deeper. "Then, will you keepthis confidential? I mean because if anyone even found out I'dbeen asking, it could be embarrassing. I might even lose my job."
Digen nodded seriously, "Absolutely confidential."
Melody bent to her soup, frowning. Then, she looked up. "Doyou know why I work here?"
"Why ... no ... I guess I don't."
Solemnly, Melody gestured to the soup, "For the free meal."She looked him straight in the eye, "Honestly, it's thatbad, I've no idealistic pretentions. If you want to throw me outright now, go ahead."
"Throw you out!? What for?"
"I work here for the free meal, I donate selyn for the money.My motivations are purely selfish."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
Melody looked at him quizzically, "You mean that?"
"Of course. As long as your selfish motivations don't runcounter to your ideals, they're respectable. That's a Sime philosophy,"he winked confidentially. "Be careful with it."
They'd often discussed Sime culture and had come to the understandingthat she wouldn't repeat fragments that could be misinterpretedand used as anti-Sime propaganda.
"Well, then," Melody said, "what would you sayto a Gen going into Technical Services for the money?"
"You want to go into Technical Services only because it payswell and you need the money?"
"Yes," she nodded calmly, "I've only been workingpart time this last month. My boss says business is slow, whatdoes he need an extra salesgirl for? My Dad's going to need anoperation. Maybe more than one. You work over there," shenodded toward the hospital, "you know what kind of treatmentthe charity cases get. My mother's too frail to work. My brothershould go to University soon. I'm the only breadwinner in thefamily and my job is crumbling.
"I'll get another sales job, but it's long hours, hard work,and low pay. I need a profession. And Technical Services is thebest I've seen." She attacked her sandwich with knife andfork. It was open style, with hot sauce, from the Gen menu, becauseSime-raised Gens share the Sime aversion to the flesh of the once-living.
"What do you know about Technical Services that you thinkit's such a good profession?" Digen was a professional consultant,duty-bound to be cooly discouraging until she showed determination.Then, he could guide her to an awareness of the desperate shortageof Technical Class Personnel which would surely give her the idealismshe seemed so guilty about lacking.
"A TN-1 makes roughly a thousand a month," she answered,"Do you know what I'd do for that kind of money? I make twohundred if it's a good month."
Digen folded his arms on the table and inspected his forearms."Do you have any idea of how much work it takes to get tobe a TN-1? How many years of training?"
"Maybe ten years. Maybe less, if you have talent. I wantyou to tell me how to find out if I've got talent."
"Melody," he was grave, "the technical class donorsreally earn what they get. The training is arduous, physicallyand mentally. I know, I teach those courses. I have a class ofTN-2s preparing to try for TN-1 right now, and believe me, thebook work alone keeps them up every night."
"I'm a pretty good book student, and I'm not afraid of hardwork. As long as I get paid for it."
"But, you won't get paid for it. At least, not at first.What's your donor rating?"
"I'm a GN-2."
"That's a good start. Ninety percent of all donors are onlyGN-3. But to qualify for Technical Services training, you'll haveto go for GN-1. That should net you another hundred a month. TheGNs are paid per unit of selyn there's no services differentialbecause even the GN-1s are passive donors. Do you have any ideaof what the TNs do?"
"Well, they do for the channels what the channels do forthe ordinary Sime. The ordinary Sime can't take selyn directlyfrom a Gen because he can't control the rate of transfer, so hetakes from a channel. The channel can control the rate of transferand collect and store selyn from many Gens, but he can only satisfyhis personal need with a Gen trained for rapid transfer and deepdraw ... in other words, a TN-class donor."
Digen nodded, "You remember your social dynamics. Now tellme, what happens between an ordinary Sime and a Gen that causesthe Gen to die?"
"Well ... I guess I don't know, really ..."
Digen spread his hands, extended the two dorsal and two ventralhandling tentacles that normally lay sheathed along each of hisforearms, and touched the tips of his fingers.
Even though the four tiny laterals remained sheathed, Melody gasped,recoiling from the eight graceful, dry skinned ropes of musclesteady and straight along the palm and back of the hand, motionless,but somehow menacing. Retracted, they contoured the forearms fromelbow to wrist, but now the sheathes lay flat and empty with onlythe laterals sheathed along the sides distorting the otherwisenormal arms.
With a strange little thrill, Melody noted the curly-haired masculinityof those wiry arms, very much aware of the predatory Sime, endowedwith blindingly swift, unhumanly sure movements. A Sime neverstumbles, never fumbles, and is stronger and faster and more alertthan any Gen. Melody knew that before she could move a quarter-inch,Digen's hands could grab her wrists, his handling tentacles couldimmobilize her with superhuman strength, and his moist, pink-graylaterals could be licking her skin ready to absorb her selyn theinstant lip contact was made.
Then Digen grinned, sheathing his tentacles. "That's a heartstopper,isn't it? You have no reason to fear me, but fear, or at leastalarm, is your reaction."
"I wasn't afraid!"
"Melody, no Sime has ever killed a Gen. Gens commit suicide.It starts with that first little thrill of alarm. The Sime issensitive to Gen emotion, and he reacts to Gen fear with an equallyintense aggressiveness. Goaded by the Gen's fear, the ordinarySime will draw so swiftly the Gen perceives it as a strangelyterrifying sensation.
"In complete panic, the Gen instinctively creates resistanceto the selyn flow within his own body, but the Sime's need overrulesit, the transfer continues, and the Gen's nerves ... well, there'sno better English word ... the nerves burn up. We call it transfershock."
"So, I'll never make a TN because of the way I react?"
"I didn't say that. A Sime is a formidable threat to anyGen who isn't familiar with our ... weaknesses. And a Gen is anuntrustworthy enigma to most Simes. The relationship between theQN and the TN, however, is based on mutual understanding. TheTN must know that he is really in command of the situation.But, he must understand that in order to achieve satisfaction,the channel must draw as deeply and swiftly as his instinct demands.
"The Gen must be confident that the channel will sense whenthe rate of transfer becomes uncomfortable and ease off as muchas he can. Any QN-3 can reach this understanding with any TN-3.The same at the second level and at the most highly skilled firstlevel. The TN must give, not merely allow selyn to be taken."
"How can any Gen just ... learn ... that sort of thing?"
"I think you have what it takes," Digen said. "Youcome here for the free meal, but when you're working, you aremore intent on doing a good job than on any reward. We can teachtechniques, but only you can make yourself employ them. Are youstill interested?"
She smiled, "I still want to try. Where do I start?"
Digen brought out a pen and notepad. "Do you have an accountwith the Center library?"
"I didn't even know there was one."
"Sixth floor, south wing, follow the yellow arrows. As anAuxiliary Volunteer, you're eligible, just tell the librarian."He thought a moment, then began listing titles. "Take theseas a starter.
"If you're still interested when you've finished them, Isuggest you enroll in the two courses that are starting two weeksfrom now," he wrote the course names. "One is the 'Surveyof the Sime Language'. It only teaches about the language, butit covers our alphabet. The other is called 'Self-Defense' andis for Gens who want to learn to protect themselves.
"Both courses are seven weeks long. You'll see the announcementson the bulletin boards. If you do all the supplemental readingfor both courses, and qualify as GN-1, you'll be ready for Prep-1which is for TN-3 trainees. Admission to Prep-1 is by consentof the instructor, so you'll have to really dig in if you wantto make it on the first try."
"That sounds frightening."
He laughed, "Not at all. I've taught Prep-1, so I know there'sno point starting anyone who isn't ready. If you're determinedto make it, I'll help all I can. It's an awful mountain of materialto digest in just seven weeks, but it can be done if you knowwhat's important and what's by-the-way."
"Will I have to learn the language? Everybody says Simelanis just about impossible to learn as a second language."
"Eventually. But it'll come naturally as you pick up technicalterms. That's why the survey course and the alphabet. Within aweek you'll be saying rhonseyal for transfer shock, and you'llbe peering at signs trying to read them. No TN has any troublewith the language, but no GN can really learn it."
Digen handed her the list he'd been working on. "I have togo now. If I'm late, my boss starts telling everybody how lazyall Simes are."
She took the paper. "Thank you, Digen. I'm glad I decidedto talk to you about it." She looked up at him as he roseand picked up his tray.
Her eyes, dark as his own, seemed to be glassy lakes, untroubledby time. He wanted to let himself drown in her, but all he saidwas, "So am I. See you tomorrow."
The cafeteria was in the basement of Sime Center. Digen climbedthe steps to street level walking the length of the wide publiccorridor to the front door in a daze. It seemed to him that bubblesof suppressed happiness were gathering in his abdomen and threateningto float him to the ceiling. Gens on their way to the Collectoriumpassed him and turned to stare at the strange sight of a Simein hospital whites, but Digen did not notice.
At the front door, he nodded to the receptionist as he steppedbehind her counter and flicked the switch beside his name on thehuge wall panel. All over the Center, his name went dark on otherpanels, telling all personnel that Sectuib Digen Farris was nolonger in the building.
Unhooking the retainers from his belt, he treated himself to onelast, luxurious stretch and eased them onto his arms, extendinghis tentacles into the inside sockets and gingerly seating thebar on the extensor reflex nodes. Once, he'd heard a history professorcall the retainer the iron maiden of the Age of Humiliation, and,lately, he was inclined to agree.
He took his time, carefully testing every degree of freedom. Simeshad to learn to avoid sharp sidewards movements of the hand whilewearing retainers. Digen often explained to Gen acquaintancesthat a pinched lateral was an agony something like a bitten tonguemultiplied by a toothache to the fourth power.
Satisfied, he shook his sleeves down, pushed open the heavy glassdoors, and hurried down the broad steps. The walk in front ofSime Center was actually in Sime territory, but by agreement ofthe Joint Council of Border City Westfield, Simes wore retainerson both sides of Border Street.
Digen breasted the chill, spring wind, breathing deeply, welcomingthe physical activity with primitive exhilaration and wonderingwhat life was like for the first Simes, wild predators, animalfree. That was the natural role of the Sime body. He resolvedto get more outdoor exercise.
Gens and Simes, shoppers and workers, passed in both directions,intent on their own swiftly vanishing lunch hour. Most of themwere employed by the town's biggest industry, Gen-Sime trade.
As a Border City, Westfield was the regional distribution pointfor all goods and services that crossed the border of Sime territoryin the Northwestern quadrant of the North American continent.The actual border ran down the center of Border Street, but manyGen establishments were on the Sime side and some Sime businessesoperated on the Gen side, a situation unique to Westfield.
The two huge complexes, Sime Center and Westfield Memorial Hospital,side by side, occupied nearly two acres of downtown property.They were both world renowned research institutions, but the onlyreal contact between them was Digen Farris.
He swung down the ambulance ramp and went through the staff entranceinto the bowels of the hospital. Past the gleaming kitchen andthe reeking laundry and through the soundproof double doors andthen along the laboratory corridor he strode, acutely consciousof the squeaking of his rubber soles on the waxed floors. Finally,he came to the end of the labs, passed X-ray, and turned rightto face another seemingly endless corridor.
But here, hundreds of Gens sat on benches outside numbered doorswaiting for the clinic physicians to come back from lunch. Ashe marched the length of that corridor, Digen became terriblyself-conscious. Every eye was on him, and his Sime hearing pickedup snatches of comments, "That's the Sime I read about inthe paper ...", "Mommy, look, a Sime!", "I'mglad that's not my, doctor!", "Really! This isa Gen building ...". "What will they be invading next!"
He kept his eyes front, pretending to be intent on business, wonderingif he wouldn't be happier to marry Melody and forget the hospital,and, at the same time, he kept trying to see a way to have both.
At long last, he came to the Pediatrics Clinic. Here the childrenswarmed around the mothers who stared, horrified, as he enteredthe room they surrounded. He hated to admit how grateful he wasto close the door on them for a brief respite before startingthe afternoon. Undoubtedly, some would leave rather than facehim.
He leaned against the door and disgustedly surveyed the room.The sink and work bench were littered with used instruments. Thewaste basket near the examining table overflowed. All the workareas around the large room needed attention. How did Clayburnmake such a mess in the half hour after he'd sent Digen to lunch?
To Digen's left, the curtain of the alcove that served as consultationroom and office was drawn aside and Dr. Clayburn looked up fromhis desk. "You're late ... Doctor Farris."
"Correction, sir." Digen nodded to the wall clock, "Fiveseconds to spare."
Clayburn slowly removed his glasses and eyed Digen with contempt."I'll tolerate no more of your insubordination! You wereforced on me, but I can send you back, though I can't imaginewhat they'd do with you upstairs. Now, bring me the folders forthe first five patients and straighten up that mess."
Digen met the old man's gaze steadily, and with the faintest traceof a smile, "Yes, sir."
He felt nothing but a vague amusement. He'd long ago relegatedthe obedience training to the level of a game. As a channel, he'dbeen trained to know his own worth with pride. A channel was bornto a profession demanding total self-sacrifice and offering preciouslittle in return. He was totally owned by the Sime community.His only true possession was his pride.
Ten minutes later, Clayburn called for the first patient and theafternoon began. A broken arm: remove the cast. An infected toe:replace the dressing. Booster shots, chest X-ray, yearly check-up,hearing test, eye test, fever, ringworm, emergency appendectomy,acne to the dermatologist, bronchitis, and finally a thirteenyear old girl pregnant. Hysterical mother: sedative.
When they'd gone, Digen stood back against the examination tableand dared a very quiet sigh. In sixteen years as a working channel,he'd never seen that happen to any member of the Sime community,Gen or Sime. He'd known, intellectually, that it did happen inGen society, but the actuality was a shock.
"Well, don't just stand there! Bring in the next patient!"
Digen moved to the door. Of course, Dr. Clayburn was unaffected.He was a mindless machine processing job lots. He had no concernfor human individuals. Compassion, it said in the foreword ofevery medical textbook, was a luxury a doctor couldn't afford.Especially, Digen thought, a Gen doctor named Clayburn, a namelong since abandoned by Gens.
"Next, please," he said it mechanically, not even glancingat the hefty blonde mother and the frail, dark haired boy passinghim. He closed the door and followed them into the consultingalcove, moving the curtain to give them a feeling of privacy.Compassion was etched in the channel's genes.
He stood behind the mother as she sat down before the doctor'sdesk and the boy sat next to her. Digen scarcely heard Clayburn'sflat voiced inquiries, the mother's hesitant replies. A blackdepression gripped him. He wondered, seriously, what he was doinghere. Their world was the exact opposite of his; he just couldn'tbelong. He shouldn't try; he should take Melody and abandonm thedream of becoming a surgeon.
He forced his attention back to the office just as Clayburn wassaying, with a confident nod, "Just a case of the virus that'sgoing around." He scribbled a prescription, "One capfulevery four hours, and drink plenty of fluids." He rippedthe blank from the pad and handed it to the mother. "DoctorFarris, weigh the boy, and measure his height," to the mother,"No need to come back next month."
Digen reached between the two chairs for the boy's chart. "Allright Phil, this way," he touched the child's arm, ignoringthe indignant gasp from the mother. Phil looked down at Digen'shand on his right elbow, and then at the cuff of the retainerpeeking out of his sleeve. His left hand darted out to grab Digen'sand he rose, turning to look up at Digen.
At a loss to interpret that gaze, Digen led the boy into the examinationroom and put him on the balance. Phil's hand trembled slightly,and the skin, Digen noticed with a little shock, was the sametemperature as his own.
They were alone for a few seconds now, and Phil cast an anxiousglance at the closed consultation alcove curtains and up at Digen."Please," he whispered, "please," he swallowedhard and Digen bent to hear what he was saying, "get me awayfrom her from them."
Phil guided Digen's hand to his forearm, but Digen didn't needthat confirmation. He already knew, in spite of the retainers,what he should have noticed before, that Phil's ailment was noailment at all. Flooded with joy, Digen grinned, hugging the childsecurely. He whispered in his ear, "Leave it to me."
At that moment, all the iron-willed starch seemed to go out ofthe boy and he buried his face in Digen's chest, laughing andcrying in hysterical relief. "I've got to get away from ...",he glanced toward the curtains, "her. She's only mystepmother She'll kill me if she finds out."
"Don't worry."
Phil tossed his head back, shaking away the tears, and sniffedas he looked Digen straight in the eye. "I'm not worriedI'm going to be a channel!"
Digen nodded. The channel's prenatal selyn draw marks him apart.Other children have to wait thirteen years or more to find outif they are Sime or Gen, but the channel knows. And he averagestwo years younger at changeover. Nevermind that Gen law had leftthe boy at the stepmother's mercy, his future was now clear.
"Ohhh ..." Phil groaned, suddenly glassy eyed, and fellagainst Digen's chest breathing in deep, shuddering gasps.
"What's going on here?" Clayburn's imperious tones seemedto echo off the enamel and steel furniture.
Slowly, Digen picked Phil up and held him on the examination table.He faced his superior across the little body. Gravely, silently,he worked his left hand under Phil's head, feeling for the Remottgland at the base of the skull, and began to rub the area gently,the best he could while wearing retainers. Phil's breathing evenedout, but his eyes stayed closed, though Digen knew he was conscious.
Phil's stepmother shrieked and started toward Phil. "Whatare you doing to that child?"
Digen came around the table and stopped her half-way across theroom. He didn't have to touch her. He just stood in her path."Dr. Clayburn, you made a forgivable error in your diagnosis.Phil is an advanced stage of changeover," then to the womanas she started around him, "I wouldn't if I were you."He put out his arm, "I said an advanced stage."
She gasped, wide-eyed and retreated with one hand over her mouth.
"Nonsense!" Clayburn brushed the air with one liver-spottedhand, dismissing the idea. "The boy's just feverish!"
"I beg your pardon, Doctor," Digen said, "but,he has no fever. His temperature is Sime normal."
"Ridiculous!" He's been walking around for the lastthree days. He couldn't possibly be in an 'advanced stage' ofchangeover."
"I said it was a forgivable error. Phil is going to be acolleague of mine, a channel. Changeover is generally quickerand easier for us. But, Phil isn't trained, and it's finally becomemore than he can manage."
Clayburn scowled at the boy, now apparently unconscious. "I'llexamine him again. That'll put a stop to this nonsense."
"No, sir. I can't permit that."
"YOU CAN'T PERMIT ... !" Clayburn roared, his jowlslivid against his white collar.
"I said," Digen continued with growing impatience, "he'sin an advanced stage. Sequence five to be precise. I can't permityou to touch him. And I'm in a hurry to get him next door."
"You can't take him out of here until I release him!"
"Well," Digen smiled at the ludicrous pomposity of theman, "unless you want it to happen right here before youreyes, you'd better hurry with your releasing."
"You insolent ... slimy ..." Clayburn choked to silence.
Phil's stepmother gagged and spat, "How disgusting! I alwaysknew he was queer, but this!"
"Mrs. Washer," Digen tried to distract her, "we'llneed you to sign some papers ..."
"Not me! You can have him!" She whirled out the dooralmost running.
It didn't matter, Digen thought. One less worry.
Phil groaned and rolled over on his side with his back to Clayburn.He was clutching his midriff and rocking back and forth emittingshort cries of pain.
Digen raked a quick glance over his shoulder and turned back toClayburn. "I've got to get him out of here. That's the SequenceSix transition, and channels go through that very quickly. Callthe Director General. Let him decide."
Digen felt on safe ground with that. Of all the Gens of the medicalprofession he'd met, the chief administrator of the hospital wasthe only one he'd found actually on his side.
Clayburn eyed Phil doubtfully for several seconds, then went behindthe curtain to phone. He didn't want to provoke an incident, buthe could not accept the authority of an intern.
Digen went around in front of Phil, cursing the retainers thatkept him from sensing his patient's exact condition. He checkedthe Remott gland again. The swelling was going down. The changeoverhormones had almost finished their job.
Placing an index finger near one lateral near the elbow, he ranit along the lateral sheath to the Ronaplin gland, and swore again.The boy's arms were small, the tentacles tiny, but they were mature.The Ronaplin gland was swelling, and there would be no controllingit now.
Phil's eyes opened and he looked at Digen a moment before recognizinghim.
"It's all right, Phil. In a few minutes, I'll have somethingfor you to stop the pain. It's not supposed to hurt, it's onlythat you weren't trained for this."
"No I don't want any chemical assist." He had to stopfor breath. "Channel's take pride in making it without help.I want ... ohhh." He clutched Digen's hand hard, gasping.
Digen bit his lip. Through the retainers, he couldn't tell ifthat was the gripping reflex that would break out the tentacles.He loosened the frail hands. "Phil, don't. Try not to tenseyour arms and hands. Keep all the muscles relaxed."
"I'll try. I want to ... be conscious all the way."
"It's no disgrace to take help. You should have been trainedto do it so it wouldn't hurt."
"Then teach me. But no chemicals ... promise ..."
"All right. I promise." Digen sighed. Where had thekid picked up these ideas? This was no time to be learning. But,he had a right to his experience. He'd never get a second chance."Remember to keep your hands and arms relaxed. When you feela cramp coming, take a deep breath and hold. When it's as tightas it's going to get, blow out hard, and go limp. It's like hiccups,but to stop it, you have to relax completely."
Phil nodded, eyes closed. "Now," and took a deep breath.
"I'll try to time it for you." Digen put his hand toPhil's abdomen, gently probing for the tensing muscles that surroundedthe selyn transport nerves. The muscles were reacting to the firsttrickle of selyn through the new nerves. He felt the spasm knotinto maximum and whispered, "Blow!"
Phil blew hard and went limp.
"Good! Now, do that a few more times, and you've got it whipped.Remember not to let your arms become tense. Save your strengthfor later."
Clayburn cleared his throat. "Doctor Farris."
Digen looked up, "Yes?"
The Director General wishes to speak with you."
Digen went around the table and into the consultation alcove Clayburnsmugly laid the handset of the phone on his desk and sidled aroundDigen and through the curtains.
Digen picked the handset up. "Dr. Farris speaking."
"Digen," it was the Director General's voice, "getthat boy out of here. Go with him and take care of him. Take aslong as necessary, then come see me, even if it's late."
"It won't be late. He's coming up on breakout any minutenow. I'm not even sure I'll have time to get him next door."
"Well, if not, close off that room and do your best for him.But try, Digen. I don't want that to happen in my hospital. You'dbe suspended, perhaps dismissed, even if you didn't lose yourpassport."
"I know. If you'll excuse me, I'll make a call now?"
"Of course!" Dr. Duval, Director General of WestfieldMemorial Hospital, hung up with undignified haste.
Digen pushed a button on the handset and dialed the Sime CenterEmergency number. He spoke a few crisp words, glad that in hismother tongue, the whole situation could be described in one sentence.
When he got back to Phil, Clayburn was hovering at what he considereda safe distance. Phil lay on his side as before, but now bothhis fists were clenched and he was pressing both arms againsthis chest, trembling with a mighty effort.
In three quick strides, Digen was at Phil's side, motioning Clayburnaway, and stifling a sinking sensation in his own stomach. Withone hand, he unknotted the little fists while with the other hesmoothed the wrinkled forehead. "Not yet, Phil, not yet.Relax now, don't tense up. You're not doing yourself any good.You're not ready yet."
The ten-year-old voice quavered, "But I waaannttt,"his head tossed deliriously and he gasped, "I want now."
"I know, Phil. I've been there myself, remember? Trust meI know what I'm saying." He wished he did. "Resist theurge. I'll tell you when. I won't let you suffer needlessly."
Phil nodded and tried to relax. His fingers danced and his headtossed restlessly. He couldn't seem to get enough air, and hisskin became flushed. Then, saliva trickled from the corner ofhis mouth.
Digen took a deep breath and looked up. Clayburn was standingby the door, watching with clinical detachment. Good. Maybe he'dlearn something.
Just then, there was a perfunctory knock on the door and it openedto admit two retainered Simes bearing a bubble-domed stretcher.The one in the lead, carrying a small, compressed gas cylinder,took one look at Phil, caught Digen's eye, and rolled his eyesto the ceiling ... you don't move such an advanced case of changeover.
"Agreed," Digen said in Simelan, "but we must.Give me a hand."
They cased Phil onto the stretcher and set it on the floor Digensat on his heels and caught both Phil's hands, "Phil ..."he waited, "Phil!"
"Now?"
"No, not yet we're going to take you where you'll be morecomfortable." He reached for the breathing mask attachedto the gas cylinder. "I want you to take two deep breathsof this."
"Nooo," it was a wail, "you promised!"
"I'm not going to cheat you of anything, Phil. If you don'ttake this, you're going to suffer terribly when we move you. It'snot a changeover assist. It's for Simes who are very sick andhave to be moved. Come on. Two deep breaths."
This time he allowed Digen to place the mask over his nose andmouth and dutifully breathed in the sweetish smelling sedative.Digen removed the mask and waited until Phil lay quiet, then closedthe bubble and motioned them out the door.
The bubble was the best transparent selyn field insulation available,and it was none too good. But between it and the gas, Phil wouldbe fairly comfortable. The gas would suppress consciousness whilemaintaining psycho-spatial orientation, that peculiar Sime senseof position in the universe.
The corridor was a gabble of voices, a roar of sound. Digen wasglad his patient couldn't hear. They marched the gauntlet swiftlywith the crowd melting away from them as if they were plague carriers.They came out on the ambulance ramp where the Sime ambulance copteridled noisily.
With practiced routine, the two Simes handed the stretcher intothe 'copter, helped Digen up and then they were airborne for thehop to the Sime Center roof receiving station. In a few seconds,Digen had his patient inside the well-insulated building.
Here, the corridor floor was an unwaxed, resilient composition,and the walls were a textured blend of pastel colored noise dampers.They stopped in front of the receptionist's counter, and Digenlooked for someone to sign them in as he stripped off his retainers.There was nobody in sight. Another delay, but they were legallyclear now.
He bent to lift the bubble dome and examine his patient. The dosagehad been just right. Phil opened his eyes and swallowed hard.There was a new, bright determination in his black eyes. Philwas just now ready for breakout. And he'd have the precious experienceof doing it all by himself without even the usual aid in splittingthe membranes.
"Now," Phil said, "and you can't say no."
Digen nodded, "Just one moment more." He turned to thestretcher bearers and said in Simelan, "Post low-field warnings,and guard the door. Give me time to finish this."
One moved to a wall control panel and made some adjustments. Signsglowed red, blocking the corridor. Then, the two Simes went backout the door.
"Now, Phil. With the next urge, clench your fists hard, thenfling your hands open, tensed with all your strength, like this."Digen illustrated the technique.
Phil copied the movement with a little groan of relief.
"Again," Digen coached, "and now again. This timeshould do it."
The third time Phil spread his fingers, they arched like talons,and for an instant, he strained as if trying to squeeze a ballthat was just too large to hold. Then, he gave a moan of pleasureas the membranes closing the six tentacle openings around eachwrist were torn and the glistening new tentacles sprang free forthe first time.
Suddenly limp, Phil panted, sobbing and laughing as he examinedhis strange new arms, "I'm all bloody!"
"No. That's just a little blood mixed with a lot of mucous,nature's packing material. We'll get you washed up in a few minutes."
While he was talking, Digen adjusted the field gradient betweenthem to stimulate Phil's new senses. This was the channel's peculiargift in action. No matter how much selyn he carried, the channel,if not deep in personal need, could adjust his show potentialat anything from the maximum he carried to near zero.
"Now, Phil, when you work with a channel, it's a little differentthan instinct dictates. Let me guide you into it, and I guaranteethe result, all right?"
"All right."
Digen took hold of Phil's wrists and triggered Phil's lateralextensor reflexes with his ventrals. As the tiny, pink-gray lateralsflicked out, he twined his own laterals securely about them. Hedidn't have to hold more than a second before Phil was tryingto draw selyn. Digen made lip contact, the Kiss of Death of Genlegend, and allowed Phil's draw, simulating a Gen donor with nearperfection. It would be good enough this time. Next time, Philwould have a TN.
Digen terminated the transfer. Phil had drawn deeply and stronglyhe had the touch of a QN-1. Moving to the wall panel, Digen switchedoff the low-field warnings as he wondered who Phil's mother mighthave been. When he turned back, Phil was asleep. He smiled downat the small form, no boy, but a mature adult, and wondered whenhe'd be lucky enough to have such a son. He was startled out ofhis paternal yearnings by the receptionist.
"Excuse me, Sectuib Farris," her Simelan had a Europeanaccent, "but I seem to have been absent at a crucial moment.I trust all is in order, now?"
Digen looked at her. An ordinary Sime, and a stunning woman withpiles of coarse black hair and a smooth skin only a little lighterthan her hair, carrying a secretary's notebook.
"Yes, quite in order. Will you call Ellin Cordingsbaugh andhave him," Digen nodded toward Phil, "put to bed. Nameis Phil Washer, possibly QN-1, no other particulars known. He'llneed a foster family, and I suggest he be sent to Korlindow forrest and rehabilitation. Be careful with him. He may have someFarris genes and I don't want to come back tonight and find himwith half a dozen allergic reactions."
"Yes, sir," she was scribbling notes, "I'll takecare of everything."
"I'm going to go wash up. Don't tell anyone I'm here. I'mleaving right away."
"Yes, sir."
Still somewhat distracted, Digen went around the corner, foundthe men's room and rinsed the blood and mucous away with a sweetsadness he couldn't explain. Channels were supposed to be practicallyimmune to violent emotion and here he'd gone from joy to depressionto joy to sadness in a few hours.
Giving first transfer was a privilege generally reserved for aclose relative one wished to honor. But, not every family hada channel, and he'd often officiated for total strangers. But,it had never affected him like this. His personal problems wereundermining his emotional stability and it would just have tostop or he'd be in bad trouble.
He shook his head and ran his comb through his jet black hair,making a mental note to use depilatory next chance he got. Glancingat his sharp features in the mirror, he arranged his mobile andmuch too revealing lips in a firm smile. Then, he headed for theelevator.
Of all the Farris family characteristics, he most regretted thoseuncontrollably expressive lips. They were an even worse burdenthan the allergies. It never occurred to him that they were thesecret of his success in Gen society. They made him understandablyhuman to Gens who regarded channels as aloof, unapproachable mysteries,and ordinary Simes as dangerous time bombs.
It was six-o'clock when Digen approached the Hospital DirectorGeneral's office. The private secretary behind her glass-toppeddesk in the outer office silently motioned him to the only otherdoor. It wasn't the first time he'd been called here, and he ferventlyhoped it wouldn't be the last. He wouldn't give up his dream untilhe had to. He knocked.
"Come!" The resonant baritone of a born executive.
Digen opened the door, went in, and closed it silently behindhimself. The Director General presided over two square yards ofgleaming mahogany desk, unadorned except for the folder he held.The deep red carpet and drapes and the vaulted shadows made theroom seem vast, dwarfing the amply padded Gen form of Dr. Duval.
"Digen!" Duval removal his old-fashioned glasses.
Digen answered serenely, "Good evening, sir."
"Sit down, Digen. We're overdue for a long talk."
Digen moved to the high-backed visitor's chair. It was smallerthan the Director's, but as Digen sat in it, it became a throne.
Duval grinned and shook his head, "You have some nerve tellingold Clayburn where to get off, then coming in here like the Emperorof Africa. Any other intern would be shaking like a leaf, perchedon the edge of that chair as if it were wired, and 'yessiring'me for all he's worth."
Digen assented with one raised eyebrow and sketched a shrug.
"You can't tell me you're not more afraid of being dismissedthan any of the other interns. This hospital is your only chance.Nobody else would have you. Where do you get the nerve?"
Digen chuckled. "Doctor Duval, above and before everything,I am a channel. I've just served in the very highest of my officialcapacities, to give first transfer. That still sings through mynerves, my whole body is alive with it. How could I possibly be..." Digen sought an English word, "... cowed ... byany human being?"
Duval checked his wrist watch. "You were only gone an hour... you mean, it's all over?"
Digen nodded. "We just made it. I wanted to thank you forgiving me permission to go with him."
"You would have gone anyway, wouldn't you?"
"It was very close, sir. I had no choice."
"Too close for comfort. If you'd performed a transfer inthis building, without special permission I couldn't have convincedthe Board of Directors to keep you even if the State Departmentdidn't revoke your Gen Territory passport."
"I know."
Duval sighed. "It's an exciting thing you're doing, beingthe first Sime in the medical profession, and I know it isn'teasy. But, I'm the only one on the Board who isn't looking foran excuse to dump you."
"I appreciate that, sir."
"And so far, you haven't given them any ammunition. Yourrecord," he gestured to the folder, "is, or was, a modelof perfection. But, lately, there's been one small thing afteranother ... and now this charge of insubordination from Clayburn.It's almost as if you just don't care any more."
"Oh, it's certainly not that, sir. I do care."
"Then what is it? You could have handled Clayburn so smoothlyhe'd never have known he'd been handled. I'd say that's your greatesttalent, and the main reason you've gotten this far. Why didn'tyou?"
Digen took a deep breath and steepled his fingers, resting hiselbows on the chair arms. His sleeves slid down revealing theburnished retainers. He knew why he hadn't gone easy on Clayburn.Melody Thrice.
"I guess I'm running short of patience. It happens even tochannels once in a while, you know."
"You mean you're in need?"
"No, not for another two weeks."
"Have you been working too hard on that project for the CenterResearch Director ... what's his name ..." Duval searchedthe air with one hand looking for the memory.
"Rindaleo Hayashi," Digen supplied. "No, sir, it'snot that. Sectuib Hayashi is a brilliant man, a world famous authority,and terribly busy. At the moment, one of his groups is on thebrink of a real breakthrough that could revolutionize selyn bankmechanics. He's the driving force behind that effort, and he'stabled everything else, including my project."
"Then what is it, Digen!? I'm determined to get to the bottomof this. You are one of the most promising interns this institutionhas ever had, and I'll consider it the crowning achievement ofmy career to be part of the staff that trained you. I don't wantto see you dismissed on something like this ridiculous insubordinationcharge or any collection of personality clashes. Until a few monthsago, you handled even the most obnoxious anti-Simes smoothly.Then, suddenly, you started rubbing people the wrong way. Andnow this. What's happened?"
"I told you. Even channels run out of patience once in awhile."
"Well, if you're going to get your credentials, you're goingto have to find your patience again and soon. I know some of ourpeople are badly ... prejudiced ... but you've dealt with thatbefore ... constantly. Why is it getting to you now, when you'veonly two more years to go?"
"Only two years?" Digen studied his fingers, achingto stretch his tentacles. "Two unbearably long years."
"Digen, you've come so far ... to fail now," Duval shookhis head. "What can I do to make those two years bearable?"
Digen chuckled sadly. "I appreciate your sympathy,but you're only one person."
"You sound hopeless! What is it? Something you want?"
Digen sat washed in misery, knowing it would show on his face,unable to make himself care.
Duval studied him with dawning comprehension. "A woman, Digen?Ach! I should have known. It happens often enough. Our ruleson marriage are very strict, and with good reason, but sometimesit really hurts. Doesn't it help to know you're not alone?"
"Oh, but I am alone, Doctor. Your 'good reasons' don't applyto me, and I've some 'good reasons' to the contrary that applyonly to me."
"You claim to be an exception? You probably are. But whenyou entered school, it was on the understanding that no allowanceswould be made. It's the same here. I bend the rules for you asfar as I can ... a ninety minute lunch hour, permission to livein the Center's, apartment building ... but exceptions ... no."
"I know. That's why I may have to resign."
"Resign! No! It may be generations before somebody else hasthe courage to do what you've done. Besides," he studiedhis fingernails, "nobody spies on you on your day off ..."
"That's one of my good reasons. We don't do that."
Duval drew breath between his, teeth. "I'm sorry. I'd forgotten.That makes it bad, doesn't it?"
"Worse. Think for a minute as a Doctor. About monthly cyclesand the curiously stable one to three Sime:Gen ratio in the oddlystable world population ..." he trailed off suggestively."I am, after all, only human. Need suppresses the other drive,but suppression makes the need more acute. There is an increasingurgency to release that secondary drive. Especially when it hasa specific goal. I may have to resign."
Duval frowned at Digen. "I see what you mean. You must beriding an emotional roller coaster. You're entitled to lose yourtemper occasionally, though I'd hardly call these slight lapses,"he scanned Digen's record, "loss of temper."
"For a channel, they are hysterical temper tantrums. Eventhough the effect is worse for a channel, we are neverentitled to such behavior. That's another reason I may have toresign. The Controller may withdraw my permission to work here.I had trouble getting permission to remain unmarried this long,and this could very well be the end."
Duval leaned back in his chair with a deep sigh. "The Boardjust isn't about to make an exception. We discussed you at ourmeeting today. Five would just love to have you resign; the othertwo would go along."
"I know."
"Look, Digen, wait as long as you can. Maybe something willturn up." He sat up straight, shuffling papers. "Thiswas the Board's decision. You are to be reprimanded for insubordinationand transferred to Emergency Receiving under Doctor Highcrest.That's the midnight to eight shift. Starting tonight. In addition,you're to be assigned extra duty for the next six weeks."
Digen nodded. "Fair enough."
"Digen! Fair? That's the stiffest penalty I've ever handeddown for a first insubordination, and we both know you weren'tguilty, at least not that guilty."
"Don't tell the Board, but I like working in Emergency. There'salways a channel on duty to collect residual selyn from corpsesof people who've willed their last selyn to us, and he has a nicelittle room where it's legal to shed retainers and drink tea duringbreaks. Shame to waste such a soft spot on the other interns."
Duval buried a grin in his fist and coughed, "How do youget on with Highcrest?"
"Fair. He's not too prejudiced. He tries to treat me as justanother intern."
"The others claim he's a slave driver, a perfectionist."
Digen shrugged. "So am I. You should see how I run my department,"he indicated the Sime Center with his eyes.
"You run a department?"
"Every QN-1 has a staff and is nominally in charge of a numberof QN-2s and QN-3s, but the organization generally runs itself.They do more for me than I do for them."
"You'll be sitting in this chair one day," Duval said,"if we untangle your problems in time."
"I hope not. A hospital doesn't run itself."
Well, for your extra duty ... I have a job for you." He pickedup a paper. "The Sime telephone company ..." he readfrom the letterhead, "... Telecomweb wants me to appointa staff member to be their liaison with the Hospital. They claimwe're buying service and not using it, so someone should teachus how. Have you any idea what they mean?"
"Probably. I've never seen anyone dial a computer accessnumber here."
"What do you mean 'computer access'?"
"That's the Sime information distribution system. If youwant to spell an English word, pick up the Web phone and dials-p-e-l-l-i-t. A voice will answer and you say the word, thenthe voice spells it. If you want to know something that wouldbe in an encyclopedia or a standard reference, dial learnit. Thereare six such numbers in use already and more planned for nextyear when Telecomweb will be expanding into Gen territory."
"Amazing! How do they do it?"
"It's a selyn-powered adaptation of pre-Sime technology.The whole Web system is selyn-powered, that's why you have topay for the service selyn. And it is a pity to pay for serviceand not use it. I'd be glad to work up an education campaign.As I mentioned, the project I was working on for Rindaleo Hayashiis dormant, and I have a couple of hours extra until classes startnext session." Digen frowned, calculating, "I can getthe thing organized in the next two weeks."
"Give me some time to work on this marriage business, Digen,we'll talk about it again. Report to Doctor Highcrest at eleven,and here," he handed Digen the letter from Telecomweb, "isyour other assignment. That's all for now."
Digen left, mentally tallying one more successful interview withthe Director General. He'd be back in that office at least oncemore. Probably, only once more.
Seven o'clock and he wasn't the least bit hungry. He'd look inon Phil and then do some research on Telecomweb in the Centerlibrary. But, first a shower and change of clothes. It would bea long night, and his tentacles were already afire from the retainerspressing on delicate nerves.
The next two weeks were so packed with activity that Digen sawmuch less of Melody than he liked. With the advertising managerof Telecomweb, he started the publicity campaign for computerservices. Being a Gen building in Sime territory, the hospitalwas the natural testing ground for the sale of Telecomweb servicesto Gens, and the campaign was very successful.
The second week, the Center's deep packing facility broke down--again,and Digen spent hours with the other channels inventing imaginativenew curses as they improvised repairs. Since Westfield's facilityhad been designed, there had been a hundred advances in deep packingtechnology, the process of storing selyn in batteries and retrievingit.
Next year's budget included a whole new selyn bank area and packingfacility, but installing new equipment, and then coaxing it towork would be even worse. Deep packing was still more witchcraftthan science.
One afternoon, Digen picked up his mail and found his Center teachingassignments for next session. He was to teach the self-defensecourse, and Melody's name was already on his roster. He hurrieddown to the cafeteria, bursting to tell the good news before heremembered that it was almost dinner time, and she only workedlunch.
But he found her there cleaning tables, and bursting with herown good news. One of the regular girls had been fired, and shehad stepped right into the full-time job at a good salary.
The next morning, Digen lay awake, deliriously happy that theywould be seeing more of each other, and afraid of that happiness.He was due for transfer this evening, and the next night, he wouldstart teaching a course during which he'd have to lay hands, andtentacles, on Melody. The desire to do so had already underminedhis self-control, and in that hypersensitive, post-transfer phase,he'd do it eagerly, and it would destroy him.
After work the next morning, Digen met Melody for their firstcoaching session in the Center library, before she had to go towork. At precisely eight, she walked through the ornate, coffer-ceilingedarch and peered up and down the long room, so dim at this hourof the morning when the long oak tables were empty of studentsand the rows of unlit, hooded study lights down the center ofthe tables obstructed the view of the room. She started towardthe circular librarian's desk in the center of the hall and hestepped forward out of the shadows.
As he led her to one of the glassed-in, soundproof study boothsat the far end of the hall, he was acutely conscious of his disheveledwhites, blood-stained next to her fresh blue uniform. A tablefilled one wall of the booth leaving just room for the two chairsand a standing coat rack. Snapping on the overhead light, Digenclosed the door.
"You've been studying, I see." He took the books shewas carrying. Both bristled with markers. "Classes don'tstart until tonight ... you're still serious about Technical Services?"
"Yes I'm convinced I can do it. And," she looked himin the eye from a heartstopping ten inches, as she grasped thetwo books Digen still held, "I want to. I've been infectedwith idealism. It's a worthy profession that needs a lot morededicated people."
This was what he'd been praying for. The path was clear. He gazedinto those eyes that haunted his days and nights, imagining himsuspended between existence and non-existence, divorced from thevery essence of his Simeness, his contact with time and space.He submerged blissfully in the infinite depths of her soul. Onlyone step remained and they would share that special unity ...
No! Not yet! He clamped an iron-willed control on his speedingheart, feeling weak. He was a channel. He could always controlhimself. The trouble was, he didn't want to. He would take herin his arms and ... With a gasp, he let go of the books and forcedhimself to turn away from her.
"What's the matter, Digen? It can't be the field-gradient,you just had transfer?"
"I'm sorry, Melody. You're quite in order, there's no gradientproblem."
"Then what? Are you sick?"
Digen chuckled weakly, shaking his head, and gestured her to sitdown. He sat next to her, opening the Simelan survey text at random.He found himself staring at the glossary, his eye travelling theSimelan column automatically until he came to the word, lortuen,and read the English glossing. A general superlative. Oh, sure,that's all, a general superlative.
He shoved the book closer so she could see and pointed to theword in Sime script. "Can you read that?"
She labored over it a minute, then hesitated, "Lor-too-een?"
Digen pronounced it slowly and distinctly, "Hlortu'en. Theinitial aspiration is phonemic."
"Hlortuen."
Digen closed his eyes and drank the sound of her voice sayingthat word, however imperfectly. His heart was pounding again,and he let it race. He didn't care.
"Digen, what's the matter!?" She gripped his hand inworried sympathy.
Starry-eyed, he turned to her, covering her cool hand with hisother, "Lortuen. That's what's the matter."
She frowned at the glossary, making no attempt to free her hand."A general superlative ... is the matter? I don't understand."
"Don't you? Can you look at me honestly, and tell me thatyou don't know what's the matter with me?"
She frowned, and cocked her head to one side, beginning to suspect.He moved her hand up until her fingers gripped his wrist. It feltvery good.
"My life is in your hands, now. You have strength enough.Squeeze, and my laterals would be too damaged to heal in timefor my next transfer."
"Have you suddenly lost your mind? You're tired from beingup all night? What's got into you?"
He closed his eyes, "Lortuen." It felt so good justto say it.
"Digen, I don't understand that word. Explain it to me."
He opened his eyes. "That's what I want to do. That's what'swrong with me ... that I want to explain it to you."
"If you don't stop talking in riddles, I'm going to leave."She made no effort to pull her hand away.
"He said, "Please, don't leave. Now that you've mademe start to say it ... it feels so good just to say it ... pleasedon't leave."
"But, what are you saying?"
I didn't mean for it to be like this. This isn't the time, orthe place. Not for Lortuen?"
"Around again. What is Lortuen?"
"Lortuen ... is what you and I can have. They glossed a commonusage of a very special and exclusive word. That's the problemwith Simelan. Our entire vocabulary is based on subjective experiencesconnected with transfer, so usage is unpredictable unless youknow the referent from first-hand experience." Digen paused,wondering why he was quoting from one of his lectures.
He looked into her eyes, gently squeezing her hand on his laterals,acutely conscious of a vibrant, cool tension in his abdominaltransport nerves. "Lortuen is our word for the experienceof a male QN-1 and a female TN-1 who love each other and satisfyeach other, and then know each other in that very ... special... way that I want to discover with you.
"Melody, I haven't used that word casually since I firstsaw you. I've stripped it from my everyday vocabulary. It suddenlyseemed to become ... sacred."
"Oh, Digen," she smiled, "but I'm not a TN-1."
"But you will be."
"Not for a long time."
"If you want it, it can be very soon."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you want it?" he tightened his grip. "Do youwant me?"
"Are you proposing!?"
"If that's what you call it. I want you to be my wife."
"Oh, Digen!" She shook her head slowly, never takingher eyes off him. "I never thought ..."
"You never thought of me as a man? As a possibility?"
"No! I mean yes! Oh, I don't know what I mean, you've gotme so confused!"
"Does it please you that I'm interested?"
She held her breath for a long moment, blinking away tears, thenshe nodded, "Yes, yes it does."
Digen closed his eyes a moment. Yes. A warm, genuine pleasureflooded from her. "Good. Then let's leave it at that. I hadn'tintended to bring it up, but you must understand that just aftertransfer, control in such matters is minimal."
She frowned, "Ohh, yes, I remember reading something, nowthat you remind me ..."
"I'd better find you another book on the subject. Somethingmore detailed. You may need it in self-defense."
"Don't scare me."
"You're not afraid."
Her smile took the sting out of her words. "You miserableSime! You're not supposed to know that."
He raised their hands. "How could I help it? I know moreabout you than you do."
"Somehow that doesn't exactly displease me, either. Well,am I healthy, Doctor?"
"Very healthy. But you should have that wart on your bigtoe removed since you're on your feet so much."
"Is that what that is? I thought it was a corn. How do youknow about it?"
"I can feel it throbbing. With full lateral contact, I'dfind it more painful than you do."
"Then, I'd better have it removed. But right now, I've gotto get to work. I hope we accomplish more real studying tomorrow... I'll see you at lunch." She still didn't try to freeherself.
"I'll bring you that book. I really do want you to studyit. Sometimes I'm afraid of myself ... what I might do ..."
"May I have my hand back?" she asked calmly.
He shifted his grip with Sime swiftness, taking one of her wristsin each of his long fingered hands. As he extended all eight handlingtentacles and gripped her arms in the braced-for-transfer position,he held her eyes with his. Not the vaguest sign of alarm in her.
He grinned. "Good. You'll be a TN-1 sooner than you think."He released her.
After she'd left, he sat for a long time nursing the residualcoolness of her hand that warmed his whole body. She hadtouch him first.
During the next two weeks, Digen fell into a tight routine ofworking, coaching, grabbing a few quick hours of Sime-efficientsleep, lunch with Melody, working for the Center at various oddjobs, dinner with Melody, teaching and more coaching, then backto the vigil in Emergency.
His days were long waits between seeing Melody. He was like amoth irresistibly attracted to a flame. The more he saw her, thefaster his resistance crumbled, the more he needed to see her.His channel's skills were deteriorating from the strain. Soon,somebody would surely notice and he would be forced to abandonhis dream. He put that out of his mind, concentrating on teachingMelody.
She learned with astonishing speed, and Digen was already startingher on Prep-1 material. She definitely had a talent, and a keenlyinquisitive mind. In fact, he was beginning to think of her asa "natural" TN-1. Such talents had been reported inthe literature, but they were all of Sime family. Their mysterious,direct transition from GN to TN-1 was ascribed to unusually strongmotivation and early training.
Digen allotted many hours to probing Melody's past and presentattitudes, trying to discover the source of her talent. One night,the talked too long after classes, and Digen was late for work.The squeaking of his shoes on the hospital floors echoed aroundhim as he sped along the corridors, rehearsing his apology toDr. Highcrest, and wishing his whites were fresher looking. Howcould he explain to a middle-aged, married, ambitious Gen doctorthat just looking into Melody's eyes made him lose track of time?A Sime losing track of time? Unheard of!
He rounded the corner and swung through the heavy doors of EmergencyReceiving without breaking stride, and then stopped short. Theusually deserted, b rightly lit corridor was a roiling bedlamof bleeding and crudely bandaged Gens, standing, sitting on benchesand folding chairs and lying on mattresses on the floor. Severalnurses were doing their best to administer first aid, and otherswere busy with admission of the badly injured.
He made his way through the throng to the nurses' station by theentrance. "Where's Dr. Highcrest?" he asked the threenurses struggling with paper work.
"Who knows?" answered one, not even looking up. "Hehasn't shown up yet."
"Miss Pellam," Digen addressed the senior nurse on hisshift, "where can I be the most help?"
She looked up. "Oh, Dr. Farris. There are two private physiciansworking in rooms one and two," she nodded across the hall,"and we're still getting victims. Two busses ... head-oncollision. I think a few cars were involved, too. I ..."
Just then, the door flew open admitting a puff of fresh, coldair and a wheeled stretcher with two attendants. One of them turnedto Miss Pellam, "I don't know what to do with this one ...I suppose we should take him next door ..."
Digen gasped. For the first time in his life, he was badly shockedby the sight of an injury. It wasn't the blood-soaked sheet thatcovered the victim, it wasn't the nature of the injury and thecallous treatment it had received, it was the identity of thevictim.
"Doctor Farris," Miss Pellam said, "I guess thisone's yours." Her voice seemed to echo in his brain, meaninglessly.
Slowly, scarcely able to keep from shaking, hot tears stingingbehind his name, Digen went around the desk to stand over thestill living body of Rindaleo Hayashi, dead at a mere sixty-fiveyears, on the threshold of the most brilliant work of his career.
"Doctor Farris," it was Highcrest's voice, but Digendidn't turn, "Doctor Farris, this is no time to freeze up!"
Digen took a deep breath, privately bidding goodbye to the greatestman he'd ever known, and turned, "Freeze up, Doctor?"He smiled gently, an island of serenity in the midst of chaos.
"Well, what do you call it? Don't just stand there! The manis injured, do what you can for him."
"What would you suggest? It's too early to bury him, toolate to honor him. We don't practice mercy killing. What's left?"
"What are you talking about? It's only a little blood. He'snot dead, yet."
"Take another look, Doctor. See how the sides of the retainersare bent? See where the blood is coming from?" Digen's voicewas hard and tight. "A great man lies before you, neitherdead nor alive. He's bearing a greater pain than you can imagine,and he faces a greater horror than you can know, death by attrition.He deserves your respect."
"Doctor Farris, snap out of it. Over there," he pointedtoward the Center, "you may be a channel, but here you'rea doctor. While he breathes, we don't give up. Your first jobis to stop the bleeding, clean and bandage the wounds. Now getto work, and don't stop thinking. Figure a way to save his life.That's an order!"
For another minute, two sets of training, two ways of thinkingwarred within Digen. And then, spurred by the surroundings, thedoctor came to the fore. He started giving orders, moving in themechanical routines that had been drilled into him.
In a bubble of detachment, he treated Sectuib Hayashi, not daringto let himself feel the horror this man had suffered. Firmly ignoringthe law, Digen took his patient into the third treatment room,locked the door, and shed his retainers.
Then, biting his lip, he set about carefully removing the crushedand twisted retainers. HE wasn't sure exactly how it happened,but he found himself automatically matching show-potential withthe injured channel, and from that moment, he knew what wouldhave to be done.
He finished the job as best he could, made his patient comfortable,and went in search of Dr. Highcrest. The mob had disappeared fromthe corridor, and an orderly was cleaning up the debris. Dr. Highcrestwas sitting on one corner of the nurses' desk, drinking coffee.
As Digen came up, Highcrest said, "Almost three hours, Doctor.The patient still lives?"
"If you call it that," Digen nodded.
"Doctor," Miss Pellam poked her head from behind Highcrest'sportly bulk, "do you know your patient's name?"
"Rindaleo Hayashi," Digen said. "SectuibHayashi."
Dr. Highcrest said, "Describe the injuries, Doctor."
"Superficial cuts and bruises, no internal injuries. Allfour laterals were badly cut in a number of places. I don't knowthe English terms. I doubt if there are any for the nerves thatwere severed, but the laterals are no longer functional."
"Prognosis?"
Digen chewed his lips, unconscious of their expressiveness.
"Speak up."
"I have an idea. It's bold, unorthodox. It's never been triedbefore. But it might work."
"Come into the office."
Digen followed him into the little room, barely large enough fora desk and two chairs. He closed the door behind him.
Highcrest sat and motioned Digen to sit. "Let's hear it."
"How much do you know about Sime anatomy, Doctor?"
"Not as much as you do."
Digen smiled, "No, I guess not. What do you know about thechannel's selyn storage system?"
Highcrest shrugged, open-handed. "Trunk nerves housed inthe abdominal cavity ..."
Digen blinked assent. "There is a node where the four mainbranches come together, a sort of 'traffic interchange'. Everchannel ... feels ... and this is purely subjective, it's neverbeen tested ... that it should be possible to receive selyn directlyat that node, bypassing the laterals completely.
"It's never been done because Sime medicine doesn't includeany surgical technique. It's a blind spot. We have an innate aversionto cutting flesh. But I'm ... almost ... a surgeon. With Simeknowledge and Sime senses, and Gen technique, and a channel'sskills, I'm sure I can give him enough selyn to live long enoughto heal."
"Interesting theory. You're sure this is the only way?"
"I've kept enough such vigils to know a terminal case whenI see one. Lateral injury is a terrific shock resulting in lossof selyn. We can heal the nerves, but we can't make him live longenough to do it."
"You can regenerate nerves!"
"Under the right circumstances, the Sime body does, yes."
"Can we get a release from the next of kin?"
"My signature would be sufficient. The problem would be gettingpermission to use a surgical theater, getting permission to workwithout retainers, finding a team willing to allow me to eventheir selyn potentials and then to work with me, not to mentionarranging for post-operative care."
"How long do we have?"
"Not more than six, possibly seven, hours."
"This could put our names in the history books, you know?"
"And if it fails?"
Highcrest nodded, "I'd like a second opinion ... anotherchannel ..."
Digen raised one eyebrow, "A Gen custom. However, TsershamYintyre is down the hall in the channel's duty room." Digennodded at the phone on the desk. "Call him. Tell him to lookin room three."
"What's his rating?"
"QN-1."
Highcrest picked up the phone. Then, they waited in silence, Highcrestworrying the legal aspects, Digen more concerned with technicalities.At this moment, they were a team, two perfectionists who recognizeda trustworthy partner.
The door opened and Yintyre entered. He looked from Highcrestto Digen and said something in Simelan, his grief real, but imperceptible.Yintyre was s short, but typically wiry Sime, with vaguely Orientaleyes. HE seemed to be Digen's age, but might have been fifty.
Digen locked eyes with Highcrest. "Tell the Doctor, Tsersham."
"This is the greatest tragedy of the century, Doctor. Hewas a great man. There will be a day of mourning proclaimed aroundthe world."
"Tsersham," Digen interrupted quietly, "there isa chance we can save him. Excuse me a moment Doctor." Digengave a quick account of his idea in Simelan. It took only a moment,but was more richly detailed than he could manage in English.
Tsersham eyed Digen incredulously, "You could do that?!"
"It's what I've been training here for."
"I don't know any other Sime who could. But if it will savehim ... try it."
Highcrest cut in, "Do you think it can work?"
"Tsersham passed his hand over his eyes and considered, "Transferdirectly into the vriamic node? I don't see why not. But to doit, you'll have to cut tissues, muscles ... how do you keep himfrom bleeding to death?"
"That's our profession," Highcrest answered, "buthow will you locate this ... node?"
"That's our profession. But I must work without retainers,that's the problem."
"Dr. Sather, the Board chairman, owes me a few favors,"Highcrest said, "so I think we can get permission. Dr. Chatley,the Director of Research, is a friend of mine." He sat forwardreaching for the phone. "Get out of here and let me rousesome old men out of bed. I'll have this organized in no time."
Digen got up and laid a hand on Tsersham's shoulder.
"Wait a minute," Highcrest said. "Who do you wantfor an anesthetist?"
"Nobody. Unless you want to help, Tsersham?"
"Big help I'd be. I'd faint at the first touch of cold steel."
Digen nodded, "Probably. I almost did the first time, inspite of the retainers. But I'm sure I can do it now, even linked."
"What are you talking about?" Highcrest looked fromone channel to the other.
Digen answered, "He has to be conscious to receive transfer.His only anesthetic will be channel's discipline."
Highcrest set the phone down. "This whole thing is ridiculous,then."
"Not at all," Digen said. "Doctor, do you thinkhe's unconscious in there?" he pointed to room three. "He'sin a state called ... well, never mind ... you could amputateand he'd never notice. When the time comes, I can ... ohhh ...there just aren't words. Leave that part to me, all right?"
Highcrest's eyebrows chased his receding hairline. "Well,all right. Win or lose, this is going to make history."
In the end, Duval and Highcrest assisted Digen with Chatley observing.The team of nurses was as smoothly efficient as possible, andthey all let Digen take selyn from them to establish the lowestpossible field.
Being a QN-1, Digen had no problem obtaining portable selyn batteriesfrom which to replenish himself afterwards, an adequate supplyof synthetic blood, and the very best insulation screens.
He had a bad moment when he saw the lengths of insulation fabric,still warm form the Gen autoclave, hung on the curtain racks inthe gleaming, aseptic operating room. They were three shades darkerblue than normal. But, when he tested them, they worked as wellas ever.
He had another bad moment when Duval noticed he hadn't scrubbedhis laterals, and he had to explain that they kept themselvessterile. It makes sense, he argued, an infection in a lateralwould be fatal, and besides, they had not proper skin, they couldn'tbe washed with soap.
He took selyn from Tsersham until he was at absolute maximum capacityand went into the experiment in a state of induced calm, awarethat during their brief contact, Tsersham had noted, and wouldlater report, his disintegrating self-control. Thankfully, thejob at hand was still well within his ability.
Three hours later, when it was all over, Digen retreated behindthe insulating curtains and drew deeply from the portable battery.Slowly, as a man eases a cramp in a tense muscle, Digen easedhis emotional control. During the whole operation, he'd been steadyand efficient, not even sweating. His decisions had been swift,sure and correct, even in the face of apparent failure.
But, eventually, the channel must pay a price for his control.As the selyn flowed into him, Digen relived the experiences ofthe operation, knowing that sooner or later, he'd have to absorbthe memory of a sharp knife in his hand, slicing flesh, cell bycell. The sooner he could accept it, the fewer nightmares it wouldcause him. Simes never dream idly, but events connected with deathby attrition could bring dreadful nightmares which also hauntwaking hours.
Trying to shake a weird feeling of detached unreality, Digen emergedfrom his private corner to watch them removing his patient andlaunching the cleanup routine.
"You look tired, Digen," Duval said, draping his gownover one arm. "You ought to get some sleep. Your ... what'shis name ... Tsershil? ... has taken charge of your patient. You'refree now."
"Tsersham isn't mine. He's a QN-1, himself, and agood one ... my QN-2, Cordingsbaugh, should be upstairs by now... I'll wash up and go get some sleep. Be back this afternoon."
Duval nodded, "Fine. Your people are well briefed. They canhandle it."
The next few days were spent in quietly mounting anxiety as Digen,Tsersham, and both their teams labored constantly to wrap Hayashiin a cocoon of conditions perfect for the deepest state of theSime Sleep of Healing that had ever been sustained for such along period.
They put him in a room in the top corner of the Gen hospital,evacuated all adjacent rooms and threw up layer upon layer ofinsulation, and even adapted the Gen technique of intravenousfeeding.
On the tenth day, all the QN-1's of the Center conferred, poolingtheir knowledge and experience, and decided that the crisis pointhad been reached in the healing of the laterals. They called inDuval and Highcrest and explained what had to be done, and thedanger that it would cause abdominal spasms. Considering the Simehealing rate, could the incision withstand it? Duval and Highcrestdisagreed. Best to prepare for the worst.
Together, Digen and Tsersham kept a vigil for the next forty-twohours, guiding their patient's efforts to heal himself, makingsure that the critical, spiraling nerve cables healed almost scarlessly.They worked, sometimes desperately, to avoid the spasms that oftenfollow the buildup of current in certain nerves. The whole hospitaland all of Sime Center were poised to erupt in a fury of activityshould that world-famous incision be torn.
When, on the afternoon of the twelfth day after the operation,Digen and Tsersham donned retainers and, bleary-eyed but triumphant,staggered through the double doors that isolated their cornerof the hospital, they were met by a sea of Gen reporters who immediatelythrust microphones at them.
Patiently, arms around each other for support, they fielded questions,often consulting each other to concoct English terms describingwhat they'd done. Some of the terms found their way into commonusage almost immediately, but most were as opaque to the averageGen as the original Simelan. Yet, the message was plain. They'dsaved a life by the most radical combination of Gen and Sime scienceand technology ever attempted.
The major commentators all agreed that a new era had be inaugurated,an era to be characterized by a Sime-Gen Union ... a reunitingof the human race that would ultimately secure the stars themselvesas part of the rightful domain of humanity. Border City Westfieldwas held up as a unique example.
Personally, Digen felt they were a bit premature, but he kepthis opinion to himself. Exhausted from the two week ordeal, andalready feeling the first stirrings of personal need, he excusedhimself from the gigantic banquet and award ceremony to be heldthat night and went to his apartment, intending to sleep the clockaround.
But he woke early the next morning thinking about Melody. He hadn'tseen her in days, and in spite of the need, now definite and demanding,he was eager to do so. He washed and dressed as slowly as he could,then wasted another half-hour tidying the three room apartment.He spent so little time there, it was more like a hotel room thana home.
Five minutes before eight, he was pacing the library from encyclopediasto biographies and keeping an anxious eye on the door. At eight,precisely, Melody entered through the arch, looked around, caughtsight of him, and lit up with joy.
He motioned her toward a study booth and moved to join her. Ashe closed the door behind them, she dumped her books on the desk,and looked him up and down slowly. "Well, you don't lookfamous."
"And how does fame look?"
She considered, "Forbidding ... intimidating ... overawing,perhaps chilly and remote. But, you seem the same as ever."She sat down, still taking his measure.
"Do you think I could ever seem that way to you?" Digensat in the other chair. "Could any professional success,or failure, for that matter, ever change our relationship? I hopenot, because there's a ... well, a congenital defect ... in theFarris family. Among ourselves, we call it the Farris Syndrome.It's a knack for being at the junction of coincidence chains.
"Every Farris can be expected to make headlines at leastonce in his life ... and I'm a direct descendent. If you marryme, expect this sort of thing regularly. It has nothing to dowith me. I'm not a genius. I could hardly get a 'big head' overthe Farris Syndrome."
"Farris Syndrome?! Oh, Digen! You almost had me believingthat. I can accept you for the genius you are, you don't haveto make a joke out of it."
"I'm not joking. How do you think a family of such ordinaryclods could rack up such a reputation that special laws are passedfor them?"
"There's nothing ordinary or cloddish about the Farrises!"
"Nevermind. You'll meet some of us; you'll learn the truth.The important thing is that you're resigned to living with theeffect, even if you don't know the cause."
"I never said that! I haven't accepted your proposal yet.I need time to think about it."
"You've had almost a month. Don't you think we should talkit over?"
She nodded reluctantly. "Guess I can't refuse to talk."
"Meet me here, nine tonight. We'll go someplace."
"All right," she sighed, thumbing a book, "butwhat about this chapter on transfer abort? I've read it seventimes, and I'm still not sure I'm holding the book right sideup. I've been waiting days for you to straighten it out for me,and I've got to have it by the day after tomorrow."
"Let me see that!" Digen took the thick red tome, scannedthe title page, flipped the dog-eared chapter, and then staredat Melody, dumb-founded. "This material is from the end ofPrep-1. I didn't give you this."
Melody gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. "I didn'ttell you! I haven't even seen you in so long! Two weeks ago, SectuibSutter accepted me as a special student for Prep-1."
Digen gave a long, low whistle and covered his eyes with one hand."Melody, if you're not careful, you'll be the only Farriswho is a real genius."
"Some genius. I can't even make head of tail out of that."She slapped the book in disgust. "Besides, they give me timeoff with pay to study with Sectuib Sutter."
"Then, why didn't you ask him to explain it?"
"I have. But we just don't seem to be talking about the samesubject."
"Then, I suspect your problem is lack of foundation. He'sassuming you know things you've never heard of. Just a minute,I'll bring you another little book I've been meaning to throwat you ..."
They spent the next half hour in an extremely technical discussionwhich used no more than five English words. Melody didn't seemto notice, but Digen kept stealing wide-eyed glances at the backof her head, shocked by her progress.
They were interrupted at ten minutes to nine by the paging system.Digen squinted at the offending loudspeaker. "What in theworld could the Controller want me for?"
"Maybe he wants a complete report on Sectuib Hayashi?"
"Not his jurisdiction. Besides, Cordingsbaugh is still preparingour report for publication. They're transporting Hayashi to Korlindowthis morning, though. That might be it. That could tie me up allday. Look," he rose to go, "see you tonight, nine o'clock,if I don't make it for lunch or dinner."
He was very right about being tied up all day, but very wrongabout the reason. At ten minutes to nine that night, still dressedin whites, he paced the library from biographies to encyclopedias,circling round and round the tables of silently working students,hunched over their books under the hooded table lights. Thrustinghis hands deep into his pockets, embarrassed at their unsteadiness,he stared up into the coffered shadows of the ceiling.
The day had been an ordeal, a series of skill tests to rival theQN-1 qualifying exams, and it had left him muddle-headed. Then,while he could scarcely see clearly, a High Tribunal of DistrictControllers had invoked an old statute, and issued an ultimatum.He'd argued. Useless. Law was law.
Melody walked under the arch wearing a light spring coat, pinkto match her rosy cheeks, and carrying a pink umbrella, damp fromthe evening drizzle. Hands in pockets, he came toward her andmotioned her out the door.
The broad corridor was deserted, half-lit and silent, lined withhuge, dark-hued portraits by the old Masters, treasures of pre-Simecivilization. They walked a few paces before she paused, "Didyou have some place in mind?"
He stood looking at her for a long moment, unable to speak, wishingshe knew already and could understand.
"Digen, what's wrong? You look like you've just been toldof a death in the family."
He examined his shoes. "No. Nothing like that. I ... ah ...did have some place in mind. But, I'd like to suggest somethingelse now."
"I'm listening."
"I'd like to spend the evening talking to you. I mean reallycommunicating, not just chatting. My apartment has the advantageof being both quiet and private."
Melody considered. She'd never accept such an invitation froma Gen. She'd learned that Sime society had a different code andactually lived by it. She frowned, "Do you really think thatwise? You're scheduled for transfer tomorrow, aren't you? Doesn'tit bother you that I'm very high field right now?"
Digen nodded, "I feel it. But ... I ... need to speak toyou, privately."
Melody paced along the corridor, scuffing at the resilient flooringwith her right toe. Digen followed, hesitantly.
"I've begun to understand lortuen," she said, "andI think I know what you've been going through. Digen, I don'tthink you should put such a strain on yourself, to be so alonewith me, at least not tonight."
"But I ... I must. This is not to be discussed in public.Melody ..." he jammed his hands deeper into his pockets,clenching his fists, and pleaded with his eyes, "please.Don't be afraid of me."
"Not afraid. Considerate. I've learned a lot I never knewexisted before I met you." She managed to look up at him,though they were the same height. "All right. If you insist..."
Silently, Digen guided her through sections of the Center she'dnever seen before and out the back way into Sime Territory. AtBorder Control, he signed a special pass for her.
Then, the walked through the soft rain under her umbrella, rodethe elevator to the eighth floor and threaded their way throughthe blue carpeted halls. In front of his door, he turned to faceher, keying the lock as he smiled. "Not much, just bachelor'squarters." The door swung open and he gestured her in.
Her eyes swept the living room with feminine appraisal. "Notmuch!" She ran an appreciative hand over the pearl-gray upholstery,and eyed the blue-gray carpet and light blue drapes. As he motionedher to the couch, he hung up her dripping coat and umbrella. Thenhe sat in the easy chair on the other side of the coffee table.
"Now that we're here," he said, "I don't know whereto begin."
"I have to warn you. I'm not prepared to settle the mattertonight. If you were a Gen, you'd accuse me of stringing you along.That's not my intention. It's just that I can't say no, becauseI'm not sure I can live without you.
"Because marriage isn't an experiment, it's for keeps. We'veknown each other less than a year, and I've only just begun tolearn about Simes. I'm afraid that when it's too late, I'll findsomething that would have changed my mind."
"But, how long can you look for that something? Is it thatyou want to find it? We've talked so many hours. What area ofmy life is there that you don't know about?"
"If I knew, I'd ask."
"Then, how long will you wait for something to turn up?"
"How long will you give me? How long should it take to reconcileone's-self to the loss of friends, the alienation of family?"
Digen flung himself back into the deep cushions of his chair."So that's it!"
"Oh, Digen!" Tears flooded her eyes, "I didn'tmean ..."
"No. You're right to hesitate. I've fought my way into yourworld, and it's been a struggle. I've seen how tightly your peoplecling together against my kind. I don't know your friends, butI'd guess ninety percent would forget you. It's wise to hesitatebefore throwing away a life when you don't know you'll be acceptedon the other side."
"Can you honestly say I will be?"
Digen nodded calmly, "Yes. No problem at all. Look at howpeople are around the Center."
"The Center is the Center. Home life is something else."
"Not in this. Melody, we pick up people, Simes and Gens,constantly from Gen society. Some of our Gens find places in Gensociety. Your people won't accept anybody with tentacles, butmy people accept any Gen who donates life with a true understandingof our need."
"Then, there's your answer. When I achieve my technical rating,I'll know. You keep telling me it won't be long."
Digen threw himself to his feet and paced all around the couch.Then he circled the other way and stood confronting her acrossthe low table.
"You'd marry me if you knew you'd be happy as the wife ofa channel living in Sime Territory? You have no reservations aboutme, personally?"
"You're backing me into a corner."
"Yes, I am. But, I have a reason. Answer me, please."
After a long minute, she lowered her eyes. "I don't know.I think so. I hurt when you hurt. I'm happy when you're happy.I think that's a symptom of a very special kind of love."
He closed his eyes and stood very still with his head tilted back.
"Digen, what's the matter?"
He looked at her. "You've set my conscience at ease."
"For what?"
He came around the coffee table and sat beside her. "Youwill be accepted. And you can achieve your rating, tonight, ifyou will it," he moved closer and put his right arm aroundher shoulders, "... now ... with me. You are TN-1,Melody."
"You're out of your mind." She tried to move away. "Don'tget eager because it just isn't going to happen. You have yourassigned donor and I have my assignment, too. It's your systemand your Controller, so don't blame me."
"Don't go." He tightened his grip and caressed her cheekwith a dorsal tentacle of his right arm, while he held her chinin his left hand. "I won't hurt you," he whispered."How I've yearned to touch you, for so long, so very verylong." Quivering with eagerness, he swallowed sudden excesssaliva and moved to bury his face in the coolness of her neck.
"Digen, don't lose control. I don't want to hurt you. I finallymastered that chapter on transfer abort this morning. That's brutal,Digen, I don't want ... DIGEN, STOP IT!"
Her scream was like a douche of cold water, an actual pain throughhis nerves. He let go of her and moved back a few inches, strugglingto master the flush of urgency that was running away with him.He sat with his chin on his clasped hands, eyes closed, barelybreathing.
"Digen, are you all right?"
He nodded, "I'm sorry, Melody."
"I told you we shouldn't have come here."
"No. I haven't finished. Something happened today that youneed to know about."
"I'm listening, but maybe you better sit over there."
He turned to her in infinite sadness, "No, please."
She shook her head disgustedly. "I never though I'd haveto face this with you."
He buried his face in his hands, "I'm in trautholo, now.If I move away, it will only make it worse."
"Oh, Digen, I warned you!" She knew that trautholo wasthe first stage of partial commitment to transfer. "It'sgoing to hurt. Now or later. Better to get it over with."
"Please, Melody. I know what I'm doing."
"All right. Sit there." She shrank into the corner.
"This morning," he said, "there was a Tribunalfrom the World Board of Controllers, in fact, the World Controller,himself, did me the honor of attending my trial. It was,"he swallowed very hard, "extremely humiliating."
"Trial! What could you possibly have done?"
"Melody, you know that society supports the channels in ...well ... luxury. Do you know why?"
She shrugged, "So you won't prefer another profession."
"Wrong. Because if we have a great desire for something,and become very involved and distracted in that desire, we'reunable to perform well, professionally. I was put through a batteryof tests this morning and I failed them all. The court found thereason and issued an order," he reached into his jacket pocket,drew forth two folded pages and handed them to Melody with a smallgreen card ... a transfer assignment form.
She turned to the second page, the English copy, and read withwidening eyes, "Contingency Contract!? What is this?"
"An old law I've never seen used before. With your signature,it becomes marriage automatically in the event of pregnancy. Yousee, the channel is owned by the community. He's not allowed todisable himself. If he gets stubborn, there are means of coercion.You are my assigned donor this month. They know I'd never be ableto stop myself."
"What if I say no?" She examined the green card unbelievingly.It was the standard form assigning her to Digen for classificationtrial, and signed by Sectuib Sutter.
"I didn't ask. I didn't want to know."
She frowned at him. "You're trembling."
"Trautholo. Not important. I'm still hoping, Melody."
"I need time to think."
"I haven't got time. I need, now."
"This is ridiculous. I'm not TN-1. I'd never be able to giveas actively as you require. I don't have the techniques. How coulda Controller be so insane?"
"You forget. I am Farris. We are famous for this sort ofthink. All that's required is that you want to do it. Ifyou love me as I love you, it will work out."
"I'm so confused! I'm being pushed into something I'm notsure I really want."
"I'm sorry. I would never have pressured you. But the matteris out of my hands now. You must decide. I promise that if youaccept me, you'll never regret it."
"And if I don't accept?"
"I'll take you home and say goodbye."
"Forever?"
"Probably."
She stared at the papers in her hands. "The contract canbe voided, can't it?"
"Yes. It's automatically void if not converted in two years."
"And it isn't marriage, so you won't have to resign fromthe Hospital. Maybe it is the best think all around."
"It isn't what I wanted, but I have no choice."
"Will the Controller run our private lives like this allthe time?"
"Only if it interferes with my public functions."
She fumbled in her uniform pocket. "I still think I don'tknow what I'm getting into. I'll regret it in the morning."She found her pen and signed both copies. "Now what?"
"You keep the English copy." He took the Simelan copyand folded it away. "I'll file this one with the Controllerin the morning."
"What will my parents say?"
"Congratulations, I hope. You're a grown woman, you've giventhem many years of service. It's time you had your own life."He moved close and slid his right arm around her waist layinghis cheek on hers.
"You're not trembling now."
"I'm not resisting any more." He drew her to her feet.
"Where ... ?" she asked.
"The bedroom."
"Oh, Digen, I don't feel right about this at all."
"You want to tear up the contract and forget about me? Sayso now, Melody, before it's too late."
"No ..." she heaved a determined sigh. "I decided.I don't want to do this, but I couldn't live with myself if Ileft now."
Holding her snugly, he walked her down the short, blue carpetedhall to the ice-blue and frost-white bedroom. The heavy blue drapespulled across the windows muffled the roar of the late springrain pelting the glass, lending the impersonally neat room a cozyfeeling. They stopped in front of the dresser and looked at themselvesin the huge mirror.
He picked up a small flask of dark brown liquid from between thetwo tiny glasses on the dresser, and examined the label. "Kerduvon.They must have sent it up. Just as well. It'll make this worknicely for us."
"What does it do?"
"Helps dispel inhibitions. It's advisable only where transferis intended to go into something more ... intimate ... so it'sused only by married couples. You see, channels are inhibited,too. We're trained to terminate transfer, even with the TNs, ina coldly impersonal way. That training could spoil everything.
He poured some of the kerduvon into each little glass and handedher one. "it" help you allow transfer, maybe even enjoyit. I doubt if you'll need help later."
She grimaced. "This goes against my inclinations. It soundstoo much like ... well ..."
"Melody, you're with a Sime now. This is Sime society, withSime values and Sime procedures. It's not related to anythingyou've known before. You don't have to use Kerduvon, but it'llhelp. I'm going to use it because I don't want to spoil this."
She held up her glass, "Lortuen!" and they drank together.
"I hope we shall achieve that degree of perfection,"he said.
She looked at the empty glass, "Tasteless. I don't feel anydifferent."
"Takes about ten minutes."
"I've never done anything like this before."
"Neither have I."
"Really!? No. Excuse me. I suppose not. Of course not. ButDigen, I'm not virgin."
"I know."
"How did you know?"
"Same way I know you had that wart removed. Here," heguided her hand to his forearm. "Feel that?"
"That's the Ronaplin gland? I've never felt it so big!"
"You've never serviced personal need before, either. Allsenses are unbearably acute. Be careful!" He grabbed herhand away from his wrist, already wet with Ronaplin. "You'llget it all over you. That could be awkward for me later."
She folded her arms on his chest and cuddled, "I'm sorry."She took a deep breath, "Don't you want to know how it happened?"
"Not unless you want to tell me."
"You're entitled. I ... was raped. Several times. By a streetgang. They say that's why I'm ... well ... frigid, if you knowwhat I mean."
"I've heard the term." He stroked her hair, cradlingher head in his palm and running all four handling tentacles throughthe silken strands. "But I don't see any evidence of anyproblem. It's happened to some of our Gens who live out there..." he stopped short. He'd almost said among the barbarians.
"No Sime ever ... ?"
"Impossible. Too much feedback. You don't want to talk aboutthat."
"No. Enough. I'm glad I told you. But, how are we going toprevent ... I mean, I think it's extremely probable that ..."
"Yes, it is. In fact, you're ready to become a mother tonight.We're not trying to prevent it ... we're trying to accomplishit. What's the purpose, if not that? WE don't do it to no purpose,Melody, it would make life meaningless ..."
"But what about your career?"
"I have one career. This is more important than the second.I'll be able to spend more time with you."
"But it means so much to you."
He started to play with the fastenings of her dress. "Butyou mean more." The thought of that kind of physical nearnesswas becoming inviting. "I think it's time."
Releasing her, he bent to the bottom drawer. "I found thisseveral weeks ago in a little shop up the street, but I didn'tthink it was a proper gift at the time." He brought up awhite negligee.
"Huoh!" she drew her breath in and stared, "Digen!I've never had anything like that!"
"It's yours. You like it?"
"So expensive!"
"A small engagement present. Put it on."
"Here!?" She looked around as if she'd never thoughtof that.
He chuckled. "Use the bathroom." He opened the doornext to the closet door and turned on the light. "But hurry.I can't bear to be parted from you now."
"All right."
He changed into light silk pajamas and waited, trembling. Whenshe opened the door and stood silhouetted in filmy white, thewhole room filled with her selyn field.
He captured her and led her to the bed.
For a long time, he spoke to her, a low crooning, a soothing confidence.The position was strange for him, all the sensations so new andcompelling. Linked deeply, he shared her feelings and tried toexplain his to her, but how can a Sime describe the cool warmthof a Gen's touch to a Gen?
Slowly, he worked up to full contact, their lips met, and he discoveredwith a little shiver of joy that all her barriers were gone, evenat the TN-2/TN-1 juncture. He drew selyn without restrain, butremained alert to any discomfort she might feel, to any slightfriction, tension, or resistance that could slam those barriersin his path. There was none. She lacked professional polish, butshe provided complete satisfaction.
As he terminated the flow, he felt his readjustment coming smootherthan he'd ever known, and more quickly. Without any volition onhis part, the delicate lip contact turned into a kiss, and hemade no effort to withdraw. This was his reward, and he'd earnedit.
When it was over, she looked up at him sleepily, "Lortuen?"
He nodded, "Flawless." He kissed her again and lay downbeside her. She cuddled up to his chest, trying to be very small.They were quiet for a long time.
Then, she said, "You always knew just the right thing todo ... it was ... unbelievable. I think I'm going to like beingmarried to you."
"Of course. I promised, remember?"
"It's not morning yet. I want now to be forever. What timeis it?"
"You don't want to know."
"Yes, I do. I want to know how much time we have left."
"I don't know."
"Oh, come on. You do, too."
"No, I don't, honest. Our sense for time intervals is connectedwith selyn consumption rate so we lose track during transfer.I have four-thirty, but it could be midnight."
"Where's your clock?"
"Don't own one. You seriously want to know?" She noddedagainst the pillow. "All right. Let me reach the phone."He stretched across her and snagged the handset with ventral tentaclesand dialed the time. He listened. "Ten to four," hesaid and put the phone down.
"Digen, I've got to get up. My parents must be frantic."
"Ohhh," he groaned, "I married a conscience! Myown isn't enough?"
"Will marry. Future tense. Not past. You need some Englishlessons."
"Correction. Married. Past tense." He pointed. "There'sa little explosion going on right there that going to need a fatherand a mother, and we're elected."
"So soon! That's incredible!"
"Uh-uh. Farris Syndrome. You'll learn to accept the improbableas a matter of course."
The phone began to chime in P1. Digen reached over her again,"Excuse me. That the official ring. I can't ignore it."Then into the handset, "Sectuib Farris."
He listened for a moment, smiling broadly. Then, he nodded atMelody. "Yes," he said in English, Mrs. Melody Farrisis here. You wish to speak to her? NO? All right. Tell them she'ssafe, but let us break the news. Yes, thank you. Yes, I'll tellher. Good morning."
He hung up and said to Melody. "Lieutenant Haskil of theCenter Security Police wishes to congratulate you on a very wisemarriage." He kissed her tenderly, "and so do I."
"Can you tell anything about the baby yet?"
"No. It's just barely perceptible as a separate life. Inabout six weeks, we'll know if we have a channel. There's no dangerto you until about three months, but don't worry, I'll be watching.I won't let our baby hurt you."
"That's something I haven't studied yet, the channel's prenatalselyn requirements. It can kill me, can't it?"
"Not any more. You're TN-1. When the time comes, if not withthis baby then with the next, I'll monitor the transfer and controlit so you'll have no problems."
She heaved a great sigh. "What a night! I don't even knowwho I am any more. Digen, I've got to get home."
He groaned. "One track mind! Your parents know you're safe.Look, it's four-thirty. Got to sleep. Morning is soon enough tountangle our lives."
"Sleep! How could I sleep?"
He sought her arms under the blankets. "Doctor Farris prescribesthree solid hours of extremely deep sleep. We're both going toneed it. We've a million and two things to do tomorrow."
He wrapped her wrists in his tentacles, seeking the Ronaplin sensitizedareas, and, linked deeply, he put them both into a refreshingsleep.
The next morning, Digen found the Thrice apartment easily enough,considering that it was a third floor walk-up in the dilapidatedquarter that sprawled in a makeshift tangle around the stone wallsof the old Gen border fortress. The buildings were more than ahundred years old and smelled it. It seemed the sort of placethat wouldn't even have hot running water.
Squinting at the penciled name card on the door, Digen rang thebell, bursting with good news, and hoping to be welcomed. Thedoor opened on a tumult of sound and motion emitting a puff ofstale air onto the musty landing. A lean collie bounded past theslender, dark-haired boy who opened the door and stood with hisfinger marking a page in an old book.
The dog leapt down the worn stone steps and skidded around thecorner of the next landing, trailing echoes of yelps as the boycocked his head to one side. "Guess you're my new brother-in-law.Come on in, if you don't mind the noise. They're having a fight.About you, I think, though it's hard to tell with mother."
Digen resolved the din into a man and two women yelling at eachother. He nodded, "Thank you," and entered the dingyliving room, negotiating the threadbare rugs with an absentmindedease. As he waited quietly to be noticed, he chided himself forbeing as prejudiced against Gens as Gens were against Simes. Yellingwas part of the Gen family life. Melody might yell at him sometime,and he'd just have to learn not to take it too seriously.
Finally, the old man saw him and gaped toothlessly. The stickfigure caricature of a woman followed his gaze, then Melody turned,frozen in surprise.
"Mr. Thrice, Mrs. Thrice," Digen greeted with a slightsmile on his expressive lips. Then his eyes met Melody's and itwas as if they'd been parted three years, not three hours. Theystood wrapped in the sight of each other, oblivious to their surroundingsfor a breathless eternity. Then, without taking her eyes off Digen,Melody said, "This is my husband, Digen Farris."
Mr. Thrice hobbled in a circle around Digen, looking him over.He might have been a tall man once, but now, he leaned on a canewhich caught in the holes in the rug, and which he pulled looseimpatiently.
"Well," he wheezed after a long scrutiny which Digenbore with composure, "if that's the best you could find,Melody, I guess it'll have to do. It's too late to argue now."To Digen he said, "I can't say you're welcome here, but Iwon't throw you out, if only for Melody's sake."
"Jim!" Mrs. Thrice spoke up, "That's no way totalk." To Digen she said, "You'll have tea with us,anyway. I'll put on some water."
"Thank you, Mrs. Thrice, but we can't stay. We've a flightto catch at once, and it's a long way across town."
"We do!?" Melody swung around to look at Digen.
He nodded, "I've got all sorts of good news. Doctor Duvaljust informed me that the Board of Directors has granted me aspecial exemption to the intern's marriage rule, and they wantto make me the Sime Specialist in Residence. Suddenly, I'm goodpublic relations, with all the publicity over Sectuib Hayashi."
Melody squealed, "Oh, Digen, that's wonderful!"
"That's not all. Our new apartment is in the Syrod Complex.That's that new building on ninety-third. The one with the gardensand verandas. They're optimists. It has three bedrooms."
"Ninety-third? That's in Sime Territory. I don't know thebuilding."
"You'll love it. All Center families. But that's still notall. You have one month vacation with pay from the cafeteria asa marriage bonus. Effective today. And Doctor Duval granted mea one month vacation. Effective today. And so did the Controller."
"One month!"
"Right. They'll wait until we get back for the formal party.And this is one of the few times I'm allowed to travel anonymously."He grinned broadly. "Nobody is allowed to make any sort ofdemand on me. I've a right to complete privacy for one full month.One day you'll appreciate that."
"I do already. Where are we going?"
"Oh, no. Top secret. You'll find out when we get there. Iguarantee, you'll love it."
"But I have to know what to pack! What'll I wear?"
"Everything is being provided. We'll be mostly in Sime Territory,so your wardrobe wouldn't be suitable. Styles are a bit different,you know."
Mrs. Thrice called from the kitchen, "Tea is ready."
Melody took Digen's arm, smiling apologetically as she touchedthe retainer. "Come on. Mom will be crushed if we don't atleast pretend she's a hostess." She whispered in his ear,"They think I married you to get out of this dump."
He answered in Simelan, "Well, they certainly don't likeit either."
"Of course not," she said in English.
"Think they'd like to live in Leland Towers?"
"Digen!" she whispered. "That's a luxury building!"
"That's where their new apartment is, and it's nearer tothe Syrod. All we have to do is get them to accept it. They'remy family now. My children's grandparents. But they'll never takeanything from me. You'll have to convince them it all comes fromyour earnings. And it does. You're entitled."
"This is ... I mean, I didn't . .."
"Oh, oh, one other thing," he interrupted, reachinginto a jacket pocket to bring out two rings, a small book, anda credential case. "Your wedding ring." He slipped theplain gold band on her left ring finger. "Your TN-1 ring,"he handed the embossed gold and diamond crested ring to her, "Butdon't wear it now. We don't want to be recognized." He turnedhis hand over, "See, I'm not wearing mine."
He handed her the case. "Your credentials, but don't letit go to your head. You've got your rating ... but only with me.You've still got a lot to learn. Now, this is your account book.I opened an account in your name because I couldn't see carryingthat much cash. It's with a Sime bank."
She gaped at the figure written on the first page. "Wheredid all this come from?"
"You've forgotten last night already?"
"But that was just between us ..."
"The law requires me to account for every dynopter of life-energyI handle. It doesn't just appear ... it comes from somebody, andthat somebody is entitled to exact compensation."
Mr. Thrice stood by the kitchen door. "Tea's getting cold."
"Coming, Dad." Melody set the items on a small tablebeside her purse and steered her husband toward the kitchen wonderingwhen the shocks would end.
 

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