A Shift of Means


Mary Lou Mendum

copyright © 1996 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

All Rights Reserved


Sime~Gen (tm) is the trademark of a fictional universe © copyright by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, 1969, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986

For permission to use any of this (or any other) copyrighted material posted here, email AmbrovZeor@aol.com.

Chapter 4

That night, the Donor insisted on supervising his cousin's rest. When the channel finally fell asleep, Den slipped out and rummaged through the carefully hoarded supply of chocolate which he had bought on his last trip in-Territory. Selecting a bar of bittersweet, he returned and placed it on Rital's dresser in silent apology for the injury his mistake had caused.

When Den sat down to breakfast the following morning, he noticed Temmin having a heart-to-heart chat with Alyce, the Center's head groundskeeper. From the coy glances the two renSimes were throwing in his direction, the changeover ward attendant was regaling her friend with an account of Jain's changeover, with a heavy emphasis on the exceptional fieldwork he and Rital had managed.

Gossiping renSimes, the Donor mused tolerantly, as he reached for the jam. What would a Sime Center be without them? Now they'll all want Rital to give them transfer next month, just to see if we really have improved.

To be fair, it wasn't only the renSimes who were interested in this particular development. As Den watched, they roped in the alternate Collectorium receptionist, a young Gen woman named Gati Forsin, and regaled her with the story. She listened avidly, but then, she had a personal stake in anything which might improve the quality of Rital's postsyndromes.

Temmin caught his eye, and this time her smile was openly flirtatious. Hmm, looks like it's not only Rital's talents she wants to try. But then, a lot of renSimes enjoyed the vicarious thrill of seducing the Donors they couldn't have in transfer. Most of the time, Den was happy to oblige this harmless whim. Besides, she's cute.

He nodded a discrete acceptance of her invitation, then opened the morning's Clarion. As he scanned the headlines, he qualified, Although, it's just as well that none of them were around when I messed up with Principal Buchan. That sort of thing could wreak havoc with discipline if it got around...

He turned the page, and forgot all about the Center's rumor mill.

Reverend Sinth had been busy. The preacher had placed a full page advertisement in the front section, and designed his text to appear as similar as possible to a legitimate news article. The content, however, was slightly on the hysterical side.

STUDENT TURNS SIME AFTER COMPLETING CHANGEOVER CLASS, the "headline" read. The text made it clear that as far as Reverend Sinth and Save Our Kids were concerned, there was a definite cause/effect relationship between the two events. Much was made of the preacher's "prediction" that Jain would change over, due to the corrupting influence of her association with the Sime Center and its staff. Despite the ad writer's enthusiasm for anecdotal evidence, for some reason the conflicting story offered by Annie Lifton at the committee meeting two days previously wasn't mentioned.

Rital was rather upset at the bad publicity, particularly when a few new demonstrators joined Save Our Kids, carrying Don't turn my child into a SIME signs. As a result, the channel suffered through a very rough turnover later that morning. However, once Den got his cousin stabilized, the channel seemed normal enough.

Even so, the Donor vowed to pay much closer attention to his handling of the fields in the future, just to make sure that he wouldn't slip up again. Besides, the quality of his fieldwork at Jain's changeover, and the effortless ease with which he had accomplished it, had made him as curious as the renSimes to see if he could do it again.

As soon as the out-Territory business day started, Den called Hank Fredricks and arranged for some damage control. The head editor explained that his advertising department had already been disciplined for letting Sinth's ad run. It was newspaper policy to place any political ad which met the legal standards for obscenity and slander-liberally interpreted. By these standards, the content of the Save Our Kids ad was acceptable, since truthfulness was only an issue with commercial ads. However, in order to protect his paper's reputation, Fredricks forbade any ad format or placement which would reasonably lead a casual reader to mistake an ad for a legitimate news article. Printing Sinth's ad in the Clarion's font, type size, and format was definitely a breach of policy.

Fredricks promised to make sure that the ad's font was altered in the rest of the week's editions. After some negotiation, he also agreed to do a short feature article on Jain's changeover, to appear opposite Sinth's ad, emphasizing that her changeover training had allowed the girl to recognize what was happening to her and get to the Sime Center long before any Gen was in danger. Den offered as an official quotation the statement that changeover training had no effect on a child's chances of becoming Sime.

The article, when it appeared a day later, also quoted Coach Farrow's blunt dismissal of Sinth's theory that Jain's changeover had been caused by exposure to Simes. "There's a lot of good reasons not to put changeover classes in the schools--" the athletic director was quoted as saying "--but that's not one of them. The girl's looked Sime for over a year. I'm surprised it didn't happen long ago." This was followed by a brief interview with Principal Buchan, in which he also absolved the Sime Center of any blame for his daughter's changeover, and lauded Rital's expert, personal treatment of her "unfortunate condition." After reading this praise, the channel was unbearably smug for the rest of the day.

Jain, on the other hand, burst into tears when she read the article. "How could Coach say that about me?" she wailed. "I thought he liked me!" It took Den and Hammil nearly an hour to calm down the young Sime.

Over the next week, Jain seemed to come to terms with her new adulthood, as she waited for her custom-made retainers to arrive from Valzor. Spurred by the insatiable curiosity of First Year, she began to talk with the Center staff, although she limited her tentative contacts to the Gens at first. In the meantime, Rital called around, trying to find a First Year camp which had the expertise in out-Territory psychology to handle a tentacle-shy renSime. Eventually, he found an opening in a school run by Householding Tien, near the in-Territory town of Safton. "Most of their members came from Gen Territory originally, so they have some idea what she's going through," the channel told Den. "If nothing else, they won't think she's too strange."

Then one day Den, Ref, and Reyna coaxed the girl into baking a batch of banana bread with them. By the time she had finished shelling and chopping the walnuts, Jain had actually laughed for the first time since her changeover.

She began to use her tentacles occasionally after that, and even began to use the few words of Simelan she had learned. However, she refused to wear the new clothes she had received at her changeover party, complaining that the in-Territory fashions were "immodest" and "weird." Instead, she insisted on dressing in her old outfits, once her father had had time to pack a trunk for her and deliver it to the Sime Center-even when the garments were totally unsuited to her new physiology. There were heads shaking all over the Sime Center on the morning Jain appeared for breakfast in one of the fashionable out-Territory long sleeved shirts which were giving the Collectorium staff so much trouble. The wide cut of the sleeves prevented the fabric from pressing against her tentacle sheathes, but the cuffs were too narrow for a handling tentacle to emerge. Any normal Sime would have been frantic at having her tentacles confined. However, all Jain would say was, "I don't have to look at them this way."

Most in-Territory citizens, even channels, would have thought that a tentacled Simephobe was a contradiction in terms. Den knew better. His months in Clear Springs had made it plain that an out-Territory child's fear of Simes didn't end at changeover. However, the Donor took justifiable pride in his pupil's progress...and in her father's.

Principal Buchan had visited his daughter at the Sime Center several times, and no longer tensed when a Sime entered the room. He had tried to interest the Clear Springs police in arresting his attackers, but the District Attorney had decided not to prosecute the case.

"He said there's no way to prove in a criminal court how badly I was hurt, since the cut healed without a scar," the principal explained. "Also, Judge Lindsey's pretty conservative. If I asked Hajene Madz to testify, Sinth would just say that he was making it up in revenge for the way Save Our Kids has been persecuting him, and Lindsey'd probably buy it. Maybe I can sue in the civil court for battery and the damage to my truck. Judge Banklin is pretty good about not letting her personal opinions affect her decisions, and that new windshield was expensive."

In the meantime, Buchan had also begun to take an active role in increasing the number of his students who took changeover classes. He started speaking to a few selected parents, staff, and faculty, and was encouraged by the largely positive response in this admittedly nonrepresentative group.

Expanding the changeover training program into the school was an even higher priority for Den, particularly when Miz Dilson regretfully told him that the other, bathroom-free conference room at the library was already booked solid for the coming school year by the overflow classes from the school district's remedial college-prep program.

"That's the larger room, you see," she explained. "There are always a lot of young men and women who slack off on their studies while they wait to find out if they're going to be Sime or Gen, so the catch-up classes are always crowded."

The Donor reflected that proper changeover training might change this in a few years, as it would encourage more youngsters to believe they had a future for which to prepare, no matter which side of the border they ended up on as adults. However, that was no help in his current difficulty.

Den was willing to admit, if only to himself, that the urgency with which he pursued expanding the changeover training program wasn't motivated entirely by concern for the local children. The Donor wanted to make sure that the Tecton would allow him to stay in Clear Springs. In spite of the isolation and the daily battles on the front sidewalk, the out-Territory city was a pretty good place to work. It was so far from the nearest in-Territory city, Valzor, that the District Controller's office tended to forget that it existed.

This was a real advantage for Den, since the Donor's habit of ignoring rules that he didn't like had gotten him into trouble with more than one Controller. Den usually got along pretty well with Rital, both personally and professionally, his recent slip-up notwithstanding. More important, Den knew exactly how to enlist his cousin in his more controversial schemes. It was amazing how easily shared guilt could keep certain irregularities out of the Center's official monthly reports. Besides, most of Den's ideas worked out pretty well in the end, even if they didn't always go as planned.

The Donor had managed to wrangle a permanent assignment to Clear Springs for himself and his cousin from the Tecton authorities the previous spring, by claiming that only they could combat Reverend Sinth's virulent brand of grass-roots, anti-Sime activism. Such an assignment was an almost unheard-of luxury for relatively young, unmarried Firsts with no dependents. To keep the position, Den knew they would have to demonstrate real progress. The success of introducing the changeover training program into the schools was critical to their strategy, since it would enable them to reach a large number of children and parents who weren't willing to make special trips to the library for the purpose.

A year before, the Donor would have considered any effort to expand the classes to the local schools a waste of time, because of the high level of anti-Sime sentiment sparked by Reverend Sinth and his Save Our Kids movement. However, the resurgence of anti-Center activism in the past four weeks hadn't canceled out all of the progress the Sime Center had made in gaining acceptance from the out-Territory community during the preacher's incarceration. In fact, the community at large was becoming a bit impatient with Sinth's obsessive hatred, and this was reflected in a new willingness to at least consider the Sime Center's alternative agenda.

Still, after the curriculum committee's last meeting had ended in a riot, Den worried that the school board would reject the classes as too controversial. Alternatively, they might choose to simply edit the subject matter beyond recognition, so as to make sure that no parent, however reactionary, could possibly object to any of the materials taught.

And if that happens, we'd be better off staying in the library where our lessons don't have to be censored, even if Rital can't remove his retainers.

Den had worked himself into a very unprofessional knot of apprehension by the evening, a week and a half after Jain's changeover, when the members of the curriculum committee were to meet at her father's Southside Upper School to decide on the content of their final recommendations to the school board.

However, despite what seemed like an endless wait, Den finally set out for the school, his cousin's stern admonition to "be honest" ringing in his ears. He had left half an hour early, to ensure that no errors in navigation would prevent him from being on time. He wouldn't have had to worry about getting lost if Rital had accompanied him. However, the channel was running behind on writing the Center's monthly progress report, as usual, and had decided to let Den answer any remaining questions the committee might have about the proposed changeover classes.

It's just as well, the Donor thought, after some of the letters the Clarion published from parents who don't want their kids to know donating is possible, much less profitable. Although I'd think that such concerned parents would have the sense to know that kids read the letters columns, too!

For once, Den was able to navigate without wrong turns and other disasters. As a result, he spent nearly twenty minutes pacing the parking lot, waiting for the janitor to open the doors. Once she did, it took him over five minutes to locate the proper room.

The committee members trickled in casually, one by one, until the only person missing was Cessly Lornstadt. Ada Dilson had been the first to arrive, and Den passed the time by discussing the merits of the childrens' books which his friend Liren had recommended. It had been a bit difficult to discover which of them had been translated into English, but the delight with which Miz Dilson greeted the list showed the Donor that his time had been well spent.

Just as Thaddus Webber was starting to call the meeting to order, fifteen minutes late, Cessly Lornstadt flounced in. Without apologizing for her tardiness, she headed for a desk as far away from Den as possible.

When she had seated herself, Webber readjusted his notes and once again called the meeting to order. "Since we must provide the school board with our recommendations in another month, we should try to agree on the contents of that report tonight," he said. "Last week, I asked you all to bring a list of any recommendations you thought should go into the report. If no one has any objections, I will call on each of you to read his or her list, so that we can discuss them."

Cessly stood up. "I have an objection." She turned to point at Den. "What is that Simelover doing here? He's not a member of the committee."

Webber blinked. "It seemed appropriate to have an authority present to answer such questions as might come up."

"And you see nothing unethical about picking an 'authority' who stands to make a hefty profit from our school system in salary and sales of materials if the classes are accepted?"

"Actually--" Den interrupted apologetically "--my salary, and Controller Madz's as well, are paid by the Tecton, and they will stay the same whether we teach the classes or not. The materials will also be provided by the Tecton. The only cost to the school district would be in providing us with a classroom-and our only profit would come from seeing more of our patients survive changeover, without killing."

Cessly frowned at the failure of her attempt to paint Den and Rital as money-grubbing opportunists. "If you insist on having a consultant who wants the classes--" she tried again "--it's only fair to have someone else here to represent the other side. I know of someone who'd be willing to come tonight, despite the short notice."

A chorus of groans, shaking heads, and rolling eyes greeted this proposal. Webber held up his hand to silence them. "All in favor of inviting Reverend Sinth as a consultant?"

Cessly's proud "Aye" rang out alone.

"All opposed?"

"Nay," chorused everyone else on the committee.

"The Nays have it. Are there any other objections?"

Pressing her lips, Cessly mutely shook her head.

"Then, to start us off, I will share some of my thoughts," Webber said. He glanced down at his notebook, then across to Den. "Sosu Milnan, I think you have eloquently demonstrated how valuable your changeover training can be for any child who turns Sime. I wonder, however, what it has to offer for the majority of your prospective students who will become Gen. I realize that there is no way to separate out the children who will go through changeover, but would it be possible to include some analogous information that would be useful to students who establish?"

Den tried to imagine how Clear Springs parents would react to having their precious children taught the material young in-Territory Gens were expected to master. Especially things like how best to cooperate with a channel when donating, and the exercises designed to discover the ones who might be able to go for Donor's training... He shuddered. They'd be throwing bombs, not walnuts!

"In Sime Territories, such classes do include as much information on establishment as on changeover," the Donor answered slowly, choosing his words with care, and very glad that his cousin wasn't present to insist on explaining the controversial details. "However, our culture has a rather different approach to what it means to be Gen. The in-Territory classes also cover some of the basic etiquette skills our Gens must learn, such as how to avoid provoking a Sime into an attack. However, the in-Territory training is also much longer. In just six one-hour classes, and with a week between classes for students to forget, it really isn't practical to cover more than I've listed."

"I see." Webber turned to the biology teacher. "Miz Ulman, perhaps you would give us your opinion on the proposed classes?"

"I think they'd be very valuable," she said. "There are far too many parents who are afraid to teach their children anything about changeover, as if talking about it could make it happen. The ones who do want to prepare their children for the possibility often don't know much more about the subject than their kids." The teacher laughed ruefully. "Looking over these materials has certainly showed me how little I know, and I'm supposed to be an expert in biology! These classes address a huge deficiency in our current curriculum."

"Then you recommend that the classes be adopted as proposed?" Webber asked.

"Not exactly," Ulman said. "I'm a bit concerned about offering such an important course as an after-school activity. There are too many kids who must practice with their teams, or have jobs and other responsibilities after school. The changeover course should be offered during regular school hours, as an elective, so that all children will be able to take it without interfering with their schooling, if they want to and their parents give permission. The first hour of the school day is already reserved for three-week elective units, during which our students can try out different clubs and activities. Driver training and drug abuse prevention are offered as additional choices during this time; there's no reason why the changeover classes couldn't be included as well."

"Sosu Milnan, would you be willing to teach the classes during school hours, instead of afterwards?"

Den would have been willing to teach the changeover classes at three in the morning, if that would eliminate the conflicts with athletic events which had resulted in such poor attendance at the previous class. He had never dreamed that he and Rital would be allowed into the school to teach during the normal school day, when the only competition was the much-scorned academic curriculum.

"Certainly, we'd be willing to teach the classes earlier, if the school board agrees," he said, trying not to sound too eager. "The extra sessions would allow us to cover additional topics, too, such as establishment and basic safety for Gens around Simes."

"Good," Webber said. "I think we'll be able to make some useful suggestions to the school board."

"Useful suggestions!" Cessly burst out, forgetting to smile in her horror. "You can't mean to let that Simelover and his slimy friend into the school at a time when innocent children might be around-children whose parents don't want them exposed to the kind of filth that was in that so-called textbook! Why..."

"Miz Lornstadt!" Webber sharply interrupted her tirade. When she stopped to smile a sweet nonapology to him, he continued, "I must ask you to hold your comments until you are recognized, or we'll be here all night. Miz Dilson, you haven't made a secret of where you stand on this issue. Would you care to expand on your reasons for wanting the classes?"

The librarian nodded. "My job is to provide information," she said. "Parents come to me and my staff regularly and ask for books and other materials with which to answer their children's questions about changeover and establishment. We try our best, but even though the Sime Center has been able to provide us with some materials, we simply don't know much about the subject. If some experts are willing to provide our children with the information we can't, and for free, I say we should accept their offer fast, preferably in writing, before they have a chance to change their minds."

"Let them keep teaching in your library, if you think the classes are so important," Cessly protested. "They do make a nice compliment to the filth you keep on your shelves. Why should we let the snakes invade our school as well?"

Miz Dilson pursed her lips at this condemnation of her prized literary collection, but she refused to rise to the bait. "The class which was offered at the library over the summer was a good start--" she explained "--but it was much less convenient for children than the school. Also, many parents don't get our monthly newsletter, so they didn't even know the class was being offered. No, changeover classes belong in the school, where they will be available to all children."

Cessly opened her mouth, no doubt to protest that it was precisely this possibility to which she objected, then thought better of it as everyone glared at her.

"Thank you for your remarks, Miz Dilson," Webber said. "Professor Ildun, have you any recommendations for us?"

The bearded young academic nodded. "I think the classes would be a valuable addition to the academic environment, even for children who become Gen. Research shows that low self-esteem, delinquency, and poor academic performance in adolescents is linked to uncertainty about the future, particularly with respect to the possibility of changeover. Psychologists agree that learning about even an unpleasant subject greatly reduces the psychological burden associated with anticipation of its occurrence. These classes might well convince adolescents that it's worth planning for their future, however it turns out, and persuade them to concentrate on their studies instead of wasting their time with idle mischief. Why, the potential for lowering the incidence of petty crime and vandalism is tremendous!"

Den made a note to ask the sociologist for a translation. Judging by the man's last sentence, the information just might convince a few more people to support the classes. The curriculum committee's report was only the first step in the approval process, after all. Still, it seemed very strange to him to argue for providing future Simes with life-saving information, on the grounds that it might reduce juvenile delinquency in their Gen peers!

"However, in view of the controversial nature of the subject matter--" Ildun continued "--I feel that to minimize the impact on dissenting sectors of our society, and any resulting conflict, special care must be taken to respect the rights of parents who do not want their children in the classes. This is particularly important if the classes are moved to regular school hours, since many parents do not monitor their children's academic classes as closely as they do after-school activities. In general, I understand school policy is that parents are allowed to exempt their children from any activity which they feel is not consistent with their social values. However, this requires the parent to take the initiative of finding out exactly what material is to be taught, and then write a letter exempting their child. Given the controversial nature of changeover classes, I would recommend that a brief description of the material to be covered be sent home with each child. Only children whose parents give written permission should be allowed to take the classes."

"I think that's a reasonable suggestion, which would allow parents to exercise greater control," Webber said. "Sosu Milnan, do you have any comment?"

Den wanted to shout with glee at the prospect of being allowed-no, required-to tell every Clear Springs adolescent and parent exactly where information on changeover was available. "In our original proposal, we did specify that enrollment would be limited to children whose parents gave written permission," he said. "We had envisioned a simple permission slip, but we would be more than happy to provide parents with a pamphlet containing enough detailed information that they can make an informed decision about what they want their children to learn in school."

Den couldn't resist glancing at Cessly as he added, "Of course, children would still be able to get the information without parental permission by calling or visiting the Sime Center." The Donor was already playing around with wording which would make that clear, without actually saying it explicitly. That way kids with anti-Sime parents will know how to get changeover information anyway.

"For that matter, similar information is available at the library," Miz Dilson added, with just a touch of malice.

Cessly smiled sweetly at the librarian and announced, "No decent parent would allow a child the free run of any library you manage!"

"From you, that's a compliment," Miz Dilson retorted.

"Ladies, please," Webber scolded. "Miz Lornstadt, if you can refrain from making any more personal denunciations of the other members of this committee, we would like to hear what you have to say about the subject of tonight's discussion."

Cessly stood. "I don't think any of you will be surprised to hear that I'm totally opposed to these so-called changeover classes. I don't want them in my school or in my town, or in anybody else's town, either. However, I realize that the rest of this committee isn't inclined to accept the clear teachings of Scripture in regard to Simes, even though at least one of you should know better. Or did you ever get around to reading Scripture at that seminary which ordained you, Reverend Webber?"

"Don't call me 'Reverend,'" Webber objected mildly. "I'm not!"

"That's obvious to anyone," Cessly sneered, following the insult with yet another sweetly innocent smile. "However, there are plenty of good reasons that should convince even an atheist to refuse that Simelover's attempt to molest our children in our own schools. For instance, Jain Buchan turned Sime only weeks after she completed the classes, which should give us all a good idea of how effective they are."

"Oh, come now, Miz Lornstadt," Nat Ulman objected. "I don't want to speak badly of any youngster who's taken my biology class, but just like Coach Farrow said, Jain always looked like a changeover waiting to happen, as thin as she was. It probably would have happened anyway."

"So you think her father was well advised to make sure his little girl was doomed?" Cessly asked. She pulled a battered roll of paper from her purse and held it up by one corner, as if to avoid contamination. The printed text had been liberally annotated in blood red ink.

"I've read this so-called curriculum proposal word for word--" she continued, shaking the document disdainfully "--and it was quite an eyeful, believe me. Changeover is described as a perfectly normal process, with no reference to morality, sin, guilt, or divine retribution!"

Cessly paused to see if this revelation produced the proper response in her audience. When it didn't, she tried again. "In all twenty pages, there is no hint that some religions view Simes as inherently evil, unable to lead a moral life. In this section--" she flipped to the page and pointed to a paragraph which had been circled three times with the red ink "--children who find themselves in changeover are simply directed to seek help from the Sime Center, without even a suggestion that seeking a humane death from their loving parents might be a better alternative."

She slammed the proposal down on her desk, declaring, "As a member of a religion which views death as the only possible salvation for a child who is in danger of becoming Sime, I see the value-free, anything-goes approach of these proposed classes as an unpardonable invasion of family privacy, an affront to religious values, and a blatant assault on parental authority as well. Even the name 'changeover class' is an insult as far as I'm concerned: it assumes that children must practice becoming Simes because they won't turn Gen. Well, Scripture plainly says that changeover is God's punishment for sin, as unnatural as the behavior which causes it. The public school has no business teaching children otherwise!"

"Miz Lornstadt, it is the job of each denomination to teach its members' children church doctrine," Webber pointed out. "Sosu Milnan and Hajene Madz are not members of your congregation; you can hardly require them to do your proselytizing for you."

"That may be true--" Cessly admitted "--but I also have the right not to have my children's religious training undermined by the tax-supported public school to which I'm legally required to send them!"

Nat Ulman brought her fist down on the desk beside her in disgust. "Once and for all, Miz Lornstadt, do you realize that participation in the changeover classes would be optional?"

"In a sense--" Cessly admitted "--but..."

"Do you speak the language? Would it or wouldn't it?"

"My children will never take a changeover class, nor will my friends'."

"That being so, Miz Lornstadt--" Ulman continued relentlessly "--is it right for you to come in here and say, 'not only will my child not take the class, but I don't want anyone else's child to be able to take it, either?'"

"Of course it's right," Cessly said indignantly. "Scripture itself says that the laws outlined in the Holy Writings were given to humankind. That means they apply to everyone, not just those who believe. Besides, who do you think my kids' friends are?"

Den resolved to bring many extra copies of the handouts if the school board approved the classes, just in case Cessly was right. They wouldn't do as much good as real instruction, but every little bit helped. If one kid borrowed a pamphlet and learned enough from it to identify his or her own changeover, or that of a friend or sibling, and then called the Sime Center for assistance before a "loving" parent like Cessly could intervene, it would be worth the cost.

Nat Ulman sighed. "Miz Lornstadt, school is supposed to teach children to live in the world. It's not supposed to hide them from it. Our wars with the Sime Territories ended a hundred years ago, and I for one am glad of it. Whether you like it or not, the Sime Center is here to stay. You can't prevent your children from learning about it eventually."

"Maybe not--" Cessly allowed "--but I don't have to allow my children to be brainwashed into helping with the destruction of everything I and my husband believe in, either!"

Den stifled the urge to deny the charges. He wouldn't change Cessly's mind, and the more paranoid and unreasonable she seemed, the less attention the committee-and the majority liberal faction on the school board-would pay to any real argument she might get around to making.

"We obviously aren't going to settle these deep philosophical issues tonight--" Webber said, to the relief of everyone but Cessly "--and it's getting late. For the purposes of school instruction, a parental consent requirement is more than sufficient protection for parents who don't want their children to participate, especially if the parents are provided with full information on the content of the classes, as Professor Ildun proposed. Miz Lornstadt, if you would assume for the moment that some sort of changeover classes will be taught this fall, have you any specific criticisms of the course as outlined?"

Cessly looked at the hostile faces which surrounded her. "You've all made up your minds already, haven't you?" she stated. "You're going to recommend that the classes be offered, and never mind the consequences. Well, I can't stop you from submitting your report, but I'm not going to let this meeting end before I've told you exactly what's wrong with these so-called classes."

She picked up the textbook and flipped through it, holding up a page which illustrated the Sime nervous system. "Look at this. The Simelover and his slimy friend want to teach our children a lot of new words-words for what happens in changeover, and how a channel's innards are arranged. Teaching such obscene vocabulary detracts from childish innocence, and can't help but lead to an unhealthy interest in Simes."

"Obscene vocabulary?!" Den yelped. "There are certainly slang or gutter words for such things, in Simelan and English both, but that textbook uses only the proper scientific terms. How can anyone prepare a child for physical maturity without mentioning the words for the process?"

"My parents managed just fine--" Cessly said, flashing her poisonously sweet smile at him "--and without any fancy words for tentacle slime, either. Those of us who turned out Gen have no use for them, and the others didn't live long enough to feel the lack. But I couldn't expect a Simelover like you to understand that. Why anyone would even consider letting someone of your so-called 'profession' into the same room with innocent children is beyond me. I mean, some people will do anything for money. I expect you don't know any better, but the rest of you--" she met the eyes of each of the other committee members in turn "--ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

"Does anyone wish to modify their support for the classes in light of Miz Lornstadt's remarks?" Webber asked. When no one expressed such a desire, he continued, "Miz Lornstadt, it appears that you will not accept any changeover instruction unless its materials are consistent with Conservative Congregation religious doctrines, and the rest of us won't allow the proposed course to be stripped of all useful content. I think that there will be little problem in drafting a majority report that all four of us in favor of the classes will sign." The other committee members nodded. "If you wish to offer the school board a minority report, I'm sure they will carefully consider any additional points you wish to make."

"As carefully as you considered them?" Cessly sneered bitterly through her smile. "Well, you can ignore me if you want, but you can't ignore God's truth forever. The Sime Center has been a problem for this community since it opened two years ago. Before you sign that majority report, I suggest that each of you go by the Sime Center and see the examples of bad manners, intolerance, and sheer bigotry which happen daily because the City Council let the Tecton into our town. You don't even have to go inside; just stop and listen for a while to the snakes' champions on the front sidewalk. Then ask yourself if you really want that kind of conflict in your schools. Because I guarantee that if that Simelover and his snake-armed friend come into the schools to teach their perversion, the conflict will follow!" Gathering up her belongings, she swept from the room in a show of temper as vapidly powerless as her words.

I hope, Den added silently.

There was a mass sigh of relief as the door slammed behind her. Webber shook his head in dismay, then returned to business. "If no one has any objections, it would probably be easiest if I go ahead and write a draft of our majority report, recommending acceptance of the proposal with the alterations we discussed tonight. I'll send a copy to each of you in a few days, so that you can mark any changes you want. We can meet sometime next week to iron out the final version. In the meantime, Sosu Milnan, could you write up the expanded version of your curriculum, as it would be if the classes were offered as a three-week elective course? It would also help if we could see at least a rough draft of the information pamphlet you would be sending home to the parents."

"Certainly," Den agreed. "I'll send copies to each of you, and to the school board."

"Thank you. Then if there is nothing else anybody would like to discuss..." Webber smiled at the groans which met this suggestion, "this meeting is adjourned at last."

Den stood, stretched, and began to gather his belongings, well satisfied with how the evening had gone. He had underestimated Cessly Lornstadt's sheer venom, but in the end, her inability to keep from sniping at the others on the committee had antagonized them into taking a firm stance in favor of the classes. Her irrelevant arguments had also prevented them from having time to modify the proposed curriculum to suit their own prejudices and misconceptions.

With enemies like that, who requires friends? As he walked though the empty parking lot, wishing that Rital were there to share his triumph, a voice called from behind him, "Sosu Milnan, might I have a word with you?"

Den stopped and turned. "Of course, Professor Ildun."

"I was wondering if I and one of my graduate students could have an hour or so of your time in the next few days, to discuss a research project we've recently undertaken?"

Den rapidly weighed the inconvenience of an interruption in the vital task of preparing an expanded changeover class curriculum and information pamphlet if he accepted, against the danger of antagonizing one of the pro-class committee members into withdrawing his support if he refused.

"I don't see why not," he said slowly. "Can you come by the Sime Center tomorrow?"

Ildun pulled a small calendar out of his breast pocket. "I've got a departmental meeting in the morning, and Arth is teaching a class in the afternoon. How about the day after?"

"I'll be on duty at the Collectorium. The next day?"

"If it's after nine thirty."

"Ten o'clock, then," Den decided. That should leave plenty of time to deal with his visitors before his scheduled transfer with Rital in the afternoon.

"Fine." Ildun fished a pencil stub out of his pants pocket and scribbled a notation. "We'll see you then." He nodded a short good-bye and headed for his bicycle.

Den watched the professor pedal off briskly, then made his way to his car, wondering how he was going to completely redesign the changeover class outline, in English yet, with such a short deadline. Not to mention that propaganda pamphlet...

In his distraction, the Donor took a wrong turn, and failed to notice it for at least five minutes. He drove in circles for almost half an hour before he found the City Hall, but at least from there, he was able to get back to the Sime Center without the embarrassment of calling for help. It was bad enough to have the staff Simes teasing him about his abysmal sense of direction; he didn't want to give his fellow Gens an excuse to join in the fun.

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