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"Are you sure you really want to see Jain through breakout personally?" Den asked, eyeing his cousin's drawn, white face with concern as they made their way back through the building to the changeover ward. "You're as pale as a ghost. How badly did Buchan's panic attacks hurt you, anyway?" Particularly the first one I failed to block... The Donor acknowledged his guilt and then set it aside, where it wouldn't interfere with his ability to deal with the consequences of his mistake.
"I've got a bit of a headache, that's all," the channel replied, massaging the back of his neck with all eight handling tentacles. "I expect it'll be gone long before Jain's laterals are mature enough for her to zlin it." He frowned as he zlinned the Donor's skepticism. "Really, Den, I've worked full Dispensary shifts with worse, though not recently, I'll admit."
The unspoken criticism was clear: It's been a long time since you messed up this badly.
Perhaps realizing that his last statement had been a bit tactless, the channel hastened to provide reassurance. "I'll be fine, and Principal Buchan required the reassurance of knowing his daughter is in good hands. Or tentacles, as the case may be."
They had left the principal under the able care of Seena ambrov Carre, the senior of the Sime Center's two Collectorium receptionists. She was a tall Gen with shoulder-length brown hair, and her two years in Clear Springs had made her an expert at putting nervous donors at ease. She had handed Buchan aThe Facts about Donation and Donating pamphlet, and gotten him settled on one of the comfortable waiting room chairs to read it. Den had no doubt that with her usual consummate timing, Seena would manage to make sure that the Clear Springs Center's other First Order Channel, Tyvi ambrov Frihill, was available to take the principal's field down as soon as he finished the reassuring platitudes in the pamphlet, and before he had the chance to think them over too thoroughly. Given Rital's current condition, Den was just as glad that his cousin wouldn't have to handle the Simephobe's donation.
"Look, Rital, I'm not asking you to break your word," Den argued as they approached the infirmary. "However, Jain's changeover is progressing normally, or Zir would have called you in long ago. It'll be a while before she requires anything more than basic coaching with her breathing exercises. At least let me work on that headache for a few minutes before we check on her."
The Donor didn't really expect his cousin to take his advice immediately; he was simply trying to plant the idea early in hopes that he could coax it to bear fruit when Rital got bored with hovering over his charge.
So he was totally unprepared when the channel meekly agreed and turned into the infirmary.
Shen, he must be hurting more than he admits, if he isn't bothering to put up even a token fight!
More concerned than ever, Den waved his cousin into the treatment alcove and pulled the insulating curtain closed to make sure that no other nagers could interfere. Rital sought out the more comfortable of the two chairs and sat, burying his head in his hands with a groan.
A Gen's trained nager was invaluable for treating ailing Simes, but there were times when even the best Donors had to resort to stronger measures. Den slipped out into the waiting area, quickly rinsed out one of the tea glasses, and refilled it with a stiff dose of fosebine from the medicine cabinet.
"Here," he said, handing it to Rital.
The channel peered at the liquid suspiciously. "That's way too strong," he objected.
Cheered by this show of normal resistance, the Donor managed a pitiless leer. "Drink it," he ordered.
"Sadist," Rital grumbled. Holding his nose with two tentacles, he swallowed the medicine in two gulps, then put the glass on the wetbench with a shudder of distaste.
Den nodded in satisfaction, then moved behind the chair and placed both hands on the channel's neck. Taking a deep breath to trigger the proper level of relaxation, the Donor set to work.
It took him almost half an hour to unravel the chaos in which Buchan's panic attack-and his own failure to block it-had left Rital's systems. It was more difficult than it should have been, as if the channel were resisting his efforts just enough to throw off his reflexes.
Is he having trouble trusting me, because I let him get hurt?
When Den had done as much as he could, he removed his hands and stepped back, inspecting his cousin carefully to determine the success of his efforts.
"Thanks," the channel said, sitting back with a sigh of relief.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather just turn Jain over to Zir?" the Donor asked again. "It's been a while since he's had the chance to give First Transfer."
"I gave formal commitment," Rital said stubbornly. "Besides, quite aside from the legal picture, if I broke my word for a mere headache, we'd never regain the staff's respect, much less Buchan's trust. His support for moving our classes into his school has been invaluable, and I'd rather not lose it. I can handle a routine changeover, and as you pointed out, we'd know by now if Jain's wasn't."
Den inspected the channel carefully. "You do look a little less like a sheet of paper," he admitted. "I probably ought to take you off duty for a few hours, just out of principle, but I won't-on one condition."
"What?" Rital asked, with the instant suspicion of one who has been victimized by far too many boyhood pranks.
"I'll let you take over from Zir, if you'll take it easy and let me do as much of the work as possible. That way, you'll be in condition to do Jain some good when she needs you."
"Den, don't you think you're overreacting?"
The Donor shook his head. "Those are my terms. You can accept them, or you can go lie down for a while. Frankly, as the one in charge of keeping you healthy, I'd prefer the second option."
"You're being unreasonable. The staff channels would never support your taking me off duty for a little thing like this."
Den raised an eyebrow. "Are we talking about the same staff channels?" he asked. "The work-starved ones who are just itching for any excuse to get their tentacles on a changeover?"
"That's blackmail!" Rital protested.
"True. Do we have a deal?"
The channel considered his options, then realized that he didn't have any. "All right," he agreed, with a reluctant nod.
When they reached the changeover ward, they found Zir puttering about with medications at the wetbench, while Hammil sat in a chair by Jain's bedside, taking an informal lesson in English. It was a subject for which the Third Order Donor had no aptitude whatsoever. When his instructor broke into giggles over his latest grammatical mistake, he winked at her good-naturedly.
"You think I talk funny?" he asked. "You be also bad, when you learn Simelan. Want try now?"
About that time, Jain looked up and noticed Den and Rital. "How's my Daddy?" she demanded.
"He's fine," Rital said, crossing to the bed with Den at his heels as Hammil retreated to his own channel's side, where his field wouldn't interfere with their work. "I healed the cut on his forehead, just like we talked about in class. Do you remember?"
The young Sime nodded warily. "I thought that was just a story," she said.
Den laughed. "No, it's real enough. Your father will have a red mark on his forehead for a few days, but Hajene Madz is right: he's fine."
"Now let's see how you are doing," Rital suggested.
Jain's eyes immediately flicked down to the channel's arms, and fastened on his partially extended handling tentacles. Her face paled and she shrank back. Rital retreated a step, puzzled by the strength of her reaction. Den moved between them, projecting calm.
"Hajene Madz won't hurt you, Jain," he said, reaching for the thin hands and giving them a reassuring squeeze. "He just wants to zlin you for a moment, to check your progress. Can you let him do that?"
The young Sime considered the request, then gave a jerky nod, gritting her teeth as she braced herself to endure the ordeal.
Rital smiled reassuringly, then casually reached out to touch Jain's wrists, with his fingers only this time. Den tightened his grip on her hands as she reflexively tried to pull away from the channel again, then reluctantly let him zlin her.
"You're doing fine," the channel said when he finished.
"My arms itch," Jain complained. She looked down at her swollen, reddened forearms, and her face twisted in disgust. "This looks worse than the time I pulled up a patch of poison ivy with my bare hands."
Den chuckled at this display of adolescent vanity. "Don't worry," he told her. "You'll heal in no time. My word as a Donor on it." He gave her hands a last squeeze, then followed his cousin over to consult with Zir.
"Has she been this uncooperative all along?" Rital asked.
Zir nodded. "I'm afraid so, Controller Madz," he admitted. "She's doing all right with the breathing and relaxation exercises, but she just about goes through the roof every time a tentacle comes near. That's why I had Hammil coaching her."
Den sighed. "I should have expected this," he said. "Rital, even if we can't get the changeover classes in the schools, where they belong, we've got to find a better room; one we can post as Sime Territory. Our students have to get used to the sight-and feel-of tentacles. Training won't do them much good if they still fight the channel who's trying to help them."
"I know," Rital agreed, taking his Donor's cue. "Well, you'll just have to coach Jain yourself, Den, and I'll limit myself to checking her progress when necessary."
"I'd be more than happy to take care of that, Controller Madz," Zir offered, in a respectful tone which didn't quite hide his eagerness.
"You're on duty at the Collectorium in half an hour," his senior reminded him.
"Reyna would cover for me," the younger channel argued. "I've been looking after young Jain all morning; she's had a chance to get to know me. Besides--" and Zir's voice suddenly oozed concern "--you don't zlin at all well. What happened to you, anyway?"
"Jain's known me a lot longer than you, I'm fine, we had a little trouble with her father, and the answer is no," Rital said firmly.
Den was shocked by Zir's lack of discipline when the young channel opened his mouth to protest his Controller's decision.
"I don't want to hear any more argument about it, either," Rital added before Zir could speak. "And since you'll be taking your Collectorium shift as scheduled, you can tell Seena I want her to send Temmin over here. We may require an extra set of hands and tentacles before this is over."
Zir's shoulders slumped. "Yes, Hajene," he conceded.
"No, don't scratch your arms, Jain," Den warned two hours later. The Donor was beginning to wonder whether he should have intervened in Zir's behalf, and convinced his cousin to allow the Third Order Channel to see Jain thorough breakout. He had assumed that Rital would have a fairly easy time with the new Sime, since she'd had the chance to get to know him fairly well.
However, the Donor had failed to consider just how reluctant their patient had been to attend changeover classes at all. She had been willing to seek the Sime Center's help to avoid killing someone, but she was just as tentacle-shy as her father when it came to actually receiving that help.
Still, Jain was having an easier time than any of her predecessors in the Clear Springs Center's changeover ward, for the simple reason that she was their first patient to have had any training at all. As long as someone (a Gen someone) was there to coach her, she was able to use the techniques she had been taught to keep her selyn consumption down to acceptable levels.
As her tentacles matured, and her body chemistry began to stabilize in its adult form, Jain became increasingly restless. She began to pluck at the bedspread nervously, until Den captured her hands. "It's not time for that yet," he told her. "Just lie still."
"I can't," she complained fretfully.
"Of course you can," the Donor said, concentrating on a nageric projection of calm confidence. "Relax and try the breathing exercises. You remember how they go." He demonstrated, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
Jain tried to follow his example, then gasped in sudden fear. "I'm falling," she wailed. "Daddy!" Her hands tightened on Den's with bruising Sime strength and she panted for air, too upset to use the breathing exercises which would have helped.
Rital came over to check her condition. Jain was beginning to get resigned to the channel's presence. She submitted to the examination meekly enough, merely closing her eyes and enduring until it was over. When she opened her eyes again, he smiled at her.
"It's just the transition to stage six," Rital explained, running a gentle finger along her cheek. "You're right on schedule. It won't be much longer before you're a full-grown Sime."
Jain nearly gagged at the close-up view of the channel's sheathed tentacles. When the transition ended, she let go of Den and turned her back on them, curling into a fetal ball. "Why doesn't it stop?" she demanded, as soon as she caught her breath. "I'm dying, aren't I? Daddy should've let Reverend Sinth's people have me. At least that would have been quick."
Rital checked her once more, confirming that the transition was over. "You're going to be fine," he reassured her. "What you're feeling is the beginning of need. It's frightening, I know, but it'll be a lot less uncomfortable if you stop fighting it and relax." He signaled for Den to calm their patient down.
"Let me see if I can help," the Donor offered. He began to rub her back soothingly, focusing his attention on her to control her need. As Rital had zlinned, the young Sime's laterals had matured to the point that she was vulnerable to this most seductive weapon in the Donor's arsenal. A few minutes later, Jain uncurled from her tight ball, as close to rational as any new Sime approaching breakout was likely to get.
With their patient's condition stabilized, Den prepared to relinquish control of the fields to Rital, as required by Tecton regulations to prevent changeover victims from becoming fixed on a Donor they couldn't have. In his determination not to let the fields get away from him again, as they had earlier with Principal Buchan, Den focused on his work with a singleminded intensity which he hadn't used since he finished training. He was aware of every nuance of the fields which influenced his own selyn production, from Jain's growing need to Rital's strong, steady presence. He was even able to pick up a faint hint of Temmin, the renSime attendant who was standing in the doorway, ready to fetch and carry.
As Rital came up beside him, placing a hand on the back of the Donor's neck to cue the beginning of relinquishment, Den let the channel assume control of his own field, blending it imperceptibly with Rital's Genlike showfield. Properly done, the exercise allowed a Donor to turn control of the fields over to a channel without any loss of support to the changeover victim.
They had never managed the tricky maneuver so smoothly before. Their patient couldn't have felt the slightest disorienting waver in the steady ambient they were projecting. Unfortunately, despite her growing sensitivity, Jain followed the out-Territory habit of believing most strongly in the information she received from her eyes. When she saw Rital moving closer, and Den getting up from his chair to get out of the way, her eyes widened in alarm, and she gasped for breath as she forgot to control her breathing.
At the first tremor of fear, Rital quickly signaled for Den to abort the relinquishment. Den picked up the cue almost before it was given, and resumed control of the ambient with a smooth shift of focus which astonished him, not least because it seemed so effortless.
The Donor reached down and readjusted Jain's blanket as if that had been his intention all along, then sat back down in his chair. His patient decided that he had not, after all, been abandoning her to a Sime's mercy. She whimpered a little in relief, and her breathing gradually improved as she calmed down.
It was obvious to Den that Jain's earlier grudging cooperation with the channel's examinations had disappeared as need ate away at her rationality, and she wouldn't survive until breakout if she wasted her selyn reserves fighting off Rital. However, the young Sime had reacted only to the sight of the channel, not to feel the of his nager. Technically, regulations permitted relinquishment at any time during stage six-and at the very end of it, just before breakout, need would force Jain hyperconscious, unable to perceive the channel as anything but a Genlike nager.
Den looked up and met Rital's eyes. They were so closely attuned that the Donor could almost read his cousin's thoughts. We'll delay until the legal limit.
Across the room, Temmin's eyes widened as she realized the chance they were taking.
With coaching from Den, Jain was able to let go of her fear enough to conserve her limited supply of selyn-at least, as long as Rital stayed back. Still, by the time her tentacles were mature and ready for breakout, Jain was close to attrition and frantic with the new sensations her body was forcing on her. Den handed her a rolled towel to grip as Rital moved in behind him and prepared to take over.
Knowing that only a perfect relinquishment would allow the young Sime to accept Rital in his place, and that there would be no third chance to complete the exercise, the Donor focused his entire attention on the ambient. He could feel Jain's fear as the first breakout contraction gathered, a growing imperative which could not be denied much longer. He steadied the fields for her, wrapping her in a nageric cocoon of support.
At Rital's signal, he let his nager blend with the channel's, allowing his cousin to take control of the ambient through him. They had never worked with such precision. Den was exhilarated by the challenge, as he let his own nager provide the pattern for Rital's Gen projection.
It worked perfectly. Hyperconscious and distracted by the gathering breakout contraction, Jain never noticed the switch. She screamed as the first contraction hit, squeezing her towel. The second followed almost instantly, and she fought it wildly, choking as she tried to breathe against instead of with the convulsions.
Den and Rital hastened to switch places physically as the third contraction wracked their patient's slender body. Most of the Donor's attention was focused on keeping his own moving nager from interfering with the channel's support. However, just for an instant, he thought he saw Jain's eyes focus and look at him, with the blind panic of a trapped animal. The Donor quickly stepped back and formed his field into an uninviting neutrality, so that he wouldn't compete with Rital's Gen projection.
Jain was hyperconscious again a moment later, when the fourth convulsion hit. This time, her hands opened wide as her tentacles broke free, spattering all three of them with blood and fluids. She panted with confusion for a moment, trying to comprehend the information with which her new senses were bombarding her, then snarled as First Need overcame her. Unfortunately, Jain remembered seeing Den move away, and she wasn't willing to accept Rital as a substitute. As the last taste of the Donor's nageric support faded, instinct took over in the new Sime and she attacked, lunging to secure the escaping selyn source.
Rital deftly intervened, entwining her tentacles with his own. With the offer of immediate relief, she forget Den and greedily reached for lip contact with the channel. It took only a moment for her to slake her need, and then she was rational once more.
"Congratulations!" Rital said warmly as she let him go. "You're all grown up now."
Den smiled indulgently as Jain looked around in confusion, disoriented by the sudden appearance and disappearance of her new Sime senses. He added his own congratulations, but was not surprised that she didn't display the pride of a newly-changed-over in-Territory Sime.
"Well, at least it's over, and I didn't kill anyone," she said dispassionately, glancing down at her retracted tentacles. One bloody dorsal tentacle emerged clumsily from its sheath, and she grimaced in disgust. "What a mess."
Den laughed and beckoned the attendant over. "Why don't you let Temmin and me help you to the sink so you can wash that off?" he suggested. "After all, you'll want to look your best at your party."
"Party?" Jain looked at him as if she thought he should be the patient-in a mental ward.
"Of course, we must celebrate," Rital confirmed. "You've become an adult today."
Den escorted the young Sime to the washroom and helped her clean her arms. The task was complicated by her uncertain control of her new tentacles, and her distaste for letting them escape from their sheathes at all. Then the Donor left Temmin to help her change her stained nightgown for a borrowed party frock, an assistance which Jain seemed inclined to tolerate as long as the other renSime's tentacles remained sheathed, and went to check on his cousin.
Rital was sitting at the desk, bringing Jain's chart up to date. The channel looked exhausted, far more than he should have been, after such a relatively light workday. However, he looked up as he zlinned his Donor's concern and smiled.
"The headache hasn't come back, Den," he reassured his cousin. "I'm just a little tired, that's all. Once I get a good night's rest, I'll be fine."
Den inspected Rital carefully, then walked over and stood beside him. The Donor's body responded normally to the channel's presence, without the vague unease which would indicate that his cousin's fields were in chaos. Finally assured that his earlier slip in failing to shield his channel from Buchan had resulted in no permanent damage, Den nodded in satisfaction.
"Just make sure that you do rest tonight," he warned.
"I promise, if we get another changeover this evening, I'll let Zir handle it, with Tyvi as backup." The channel smiled crookedly. "All right?"
Den let his hand rest on his cousin's forearm for a moment. "All right," he agreed.
By the time Den, Rital, and Jain reached the Center's main foyer, the off-duty staff had already congregated. They greeted the guest of honor with smiles and congratulations as Den escorted her into the room.
Seena had managed the preparations with her accustomed skill. The table which usually displayed pamphlets and other materials for out-Territory visitors was now covered with refreshments, and the Gen staff members were already helping themselves to fruit, cheese, and other dainties. As Rital slipped away to consult with Tyvi, Den noticed with delight that Ref had gone to the extra effort of whipping up a batch of his famous banana-walnut ice cream. Most of the Simes were contenting themselves with the traditional glasses of spiced, amber-colored lantria.
Seena had also discretely passed out small wrapped packages containing clothing, toiletries, books, and other items likely to ease the transition to life in-Territory. These had been purchased out of the stipend which the Tecton provided each out-Territory changeover victim for emergency supplies. Many border Sime Centers simply handed their charges a few changes of used clothing and left the rest to the First Year Camps. However, at Rital's insistence, the Clear Springs Center presented the necessities (and a few luxuries in addition) as gifts from many different individuals. This encouraged the new Sime to perceive the staff as potential friends, and made the provisions seem much less like charity. The distinction could make an important difference in the attitude of proud and vulnerable adolescents, most of whom had been rejected-sometimes violently-by family and friends.
Jain hadn't been totally rejected, however. Her father was standing off to one side of the main group, holding a glass of lantria as he conversed with Tyvi's Donor, Siv Alson. The staff renSimes had managed to stay on the other side of the room without being too obvious about it, but Buchan still tensed and inspected each person who came near him for the presence of tentacles.
Jain, of course, made a beeline for her father as soon as she spotted him. Den met Siv's glance and lifted an interrogative eyebrow. The other Donor nodded in agreement, so Den didn't try to stop her. With the smoothness of long practice, the two Donors moved to control the fields, preventing their respective charges from injuring each other.
"Daddy! You're still here!" Jain blurted out to her father in surprise as soon as she was in range. She automatically reached out her arms to offer him a hug, then snatched them behind her back as she saw her tentacles.
Buchan gave her a slightly forced smile and bounced nervously on his toes, carefully keeping his gaze on her face. "Of course, I'm still here, Jainy," he reassured her. "You're my daughter. How could I leave before I knew you were all right?"
Jain smiled in return, just as tentatively, then frowned in puzzlement, blinking as if she couldn't quite focus her eyes properly. Finally, she turned to Den and asked, "How come Daddy glows so dimly? You and he--" she nodded towards Siv "--are lots brighter."
Den managed not to laugh at the mess the out-Territory language made of a simple concept like field strength. "Sosu Alson and I are carrying a lot more selyn than your father right now," he explained patiently. "That's mostly because we're Donors, but it's more obvious since your father's just donated."
Jain's eyes widened in astonishment. "You did?" she asked Buchan. Her handling tentacles began to extend with surprise, until one of them touched her wrist. She flinched and hurriedly pulled them back into their sheathes.
Her father shrugged. "They wouldn't let me see you otherwise." As she continued to stare, he added, "It's well worth the price. Besides, it wasn't that bad."
Den looked at Siv, who rolled his eyes in exasperation. Glancing down at Buchan's arms, Den spotted the telltale red marks of rapidly healed bruises. Like any channel who worked regularly with out-Territory donors, Tyvi had become quite proficient at calming nervous Gens before attempting to lower their fields. It appeared that in spite of her skill, Buchan had fought hard enough that she had been forced to bruise him, in order to hold him still long enough to complete the donation.
It's a good thing Rital didn't have to take his field down, in his condition, Den thought. Buchan might have been able to trigger an abort!
However, Jain seemed genuinely touched by her father's sacrifice, and the two began to speak more comfortably with each other. Even though the conversation often faltered as something reminded them that they no longer shared a future, they were able to share their past, and that helped.
The two Donors held the fields steady and stayed quiet, doing their best to give their respective charges the illusion of privacy. As Den listened, his respect for the out-Territory principal increased. Even for a man whose profession involved dealing with adolescents, Buchan seemed to have a talent for guessing the meanings behind Jain's one-word nonanswers to his questions. More importantly, and his obvious nervousness around Simes notwithstanding, he was doing his best to convince his daughter that despite her new tentacles, she had his love and respect.
It was good therapy for both of them. Within five minutes, Buchan had stopped scanning the nearby guests for tentacles. Three minutes after that, Jain actually brought her hands out from behind her back, although she kept her tentacles tightly sheathed.
Then Reyna Tast, the grandmotherly Third Order channel, came bustling over. "Congratulations, my dear," she said, eyes twinkling merrily as she offered Jain a neatly wrapped package.
Father and daughter moved in unison, shying away from the elderly Sime as if she were a Freeband Raider.
So much for progress, Den thought ironically.
Go To Chapter 4