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 5

The next day, Den locked himself into his office, unplugged the phone, and frantically rewrote the model curriculum to fit the expanded class hours recommended by the committee's majority faction. He skipped lunch, contenting himself with an apple-pear and a handful of walnuts. He even neglected to check up on Rital, telling himself that in spite his recent blunder, his cousin trusted him enough to call for any necessary help before the situation became critical.

He won't let himself get hurt.

Besides, Rital was in reasonably good shape despite his closeness to need, and the injury he had sustained while treating Buchan was long healed. Although they hadn't been able to recreate the perfection of cooperation they had achieved during Jain's breakout, Den had at least been able to avoid repeating the mistake he had made earlier that day with Jain's father.

Fortunately, there were no changeovers or other emergencies which required the Donor's presence that day. He was exhausted by the time he had finished an acceptable draft of the class outline, but he immediately began on the "informed consent" pamphlet Ildun had suggested. It was a delicate task. The text had to be accurate enough to win Rital's approval, bland enough that the school board would pass it, reassuring enough to prevent most parents from getting hysterical, persuasive enough to convince as many parents as possible to allow their children to participate, informative enough to help those children whose parents refused to let them take the classes, and short enough that its various target audiences would bother to read it.

It was late by the time he finished, but he was very pleased with the result of his labors. The pamphlet began with a brief explanation of what changeover training was, and why it was important. Then, Den had devoted a few paragraphs to confronting some of the more egregious rumors that Save Our Kids had been circulating, in a question and answer format. After that, he had listed the topics to be covered, with a sentence or so of explanation under each heading. The Donor was quite pleased with the creative use of euphemisms which had allowed him to avoid controversial words such as "tentacle," "need," or "donate." The pamphlet ended with a section titled To obtain more information, which listed the additional materials on changeover, establishment, and related topics which were available at both the Sime Center and the library. Telephone numbers and addresses were included, to provide any inquisitive readers the greatest possible flexibility in satisfying their curiosity.

Den hoped that having the revised class outline and information pamphlet in hand would encourage the school board to move quickly and approve the classes at their next meeting, a month away, when the study committee's reports would also be presented. Such speed would make it more difficult for Sinth to mobilize public opinion against the classes with a scare campaign. Of course, to avoid charges that the classes were being approved in secrecy, copies of the proposed curriculum would have to be placed with the Clear Springs Clarion and in the public library.

There was some risk in such openness, as the majority of Clear Springs' Gens were nondonors and tended to be somewhat squeamish on the subject of Simes. However, with Cessly Lornstadt on the curriculum committee, and her husband Ephriam on the school board, there was no way to prevent Sinth from getting his hands on the revised curriculum and publicizing carefully selected portions of it himself, annotated with an inflammatory commentary. Knowing that the documents were publicly available might prevent the preacher from indulging in too many outright lies-and some parents might just take the time to read the original and discover the truth for themselves.

The day before Den's scheduled transfer with Rital was one of those in which nothing seemed to go right. It rained, not a brief summer thunderstorm which would have left the world fresh and sweet-smelling, but the first of autumn's cold, day-long drizzles. A clogged storm drain had flooded the basement overnight, forcing Alyce to turn off the power for part of the morning while she made repairs. This meant that there was no hot water for tea, and only a cold breakfast.

Perhaps that was why Rital was so critical of Den's information pamphlet.

"The school board will never approve this nonsense. How can you write this many sentences and say so little?" the channel protested. He sipped at a glass of fruit juice, then made a face and pushed it away. "There's nothing specific in here about what we'll be teaching."

"That's the whole point," Den explained patiently. "I did exactly what the committee asked: wrote a pamphlet which will tell the parents why the classes might be of value to their kids, and the kinds of material we'll be covering."

"But look at this." Rital pointed one tentacle at an entry in the list of topics to be covered. "'How the Tecton functions' is pretty vague; it could mean anything from bureaucratic structure to what we're actually teaching, which is how general class donations provide selyn for renSimes. However, all you say about that lecture is that it covers 'the means whereby the Tecton prevents Simes from attacking Gens.'"

"Well, it does," Den pointed out.

The channel moved his tentacle up the list to another entry. "And up here, you describe our sessions on changeover itself as covering 'developmental processes associated with becoming Sime.' You don't mention tentacle development, breakout, or that we're teaching the kids exercises which will make them much more likely to survive changeover."

The Donor shrugged. "Rital, about half of the parents in this town find the idea of tentacles and Simes surviving changeover unsettling, to say the least. My descriptions will provide parents with enough data to make at least a partially informed decision, but it won't get them so upset that they start complaining to the school board. Any parent who wants more complete information on what we're teaching can get it by calling us or the library; both numbers are listed on the last page."

"It still seems dishonest," the channel grumbled.

"It's not dishonest; it's the way information is handled out-Territory," Den explained. "You present the positive side of your case, in the best possible light, without giving your opponents free ammunition to use against you. Reverend Sinth will gnash his teeth when he reads this, but he won't be able to find any juicy quotes from it to cite when he's writing his own pamphlets opposing changeover training."

Rital zlinned his cousin carefully. "You enjoy making his life difficult, don't you?"

The Donor grinned. "Well, after all the trouble he goes to, making our lives miserable, the least I can do is to return the favor."

Rital wasn't amused. "By participating in his one-sided approach to the issue, you're sinking to his level."

"By engaging him in debate, I can gradually change the terms of that debate," Den corrected. "If you compare Sinth's current propaganda to the stuff he was passing out when the Sime Center opened two years ago, I think you'll agree there's been some improvement. He's even stopped accusing us of putting general class donors in a secret Pen in the basement, since it became too obvious that no donors were missing."

"I don't like to see my Donor trying to keep information on our services from the very people we're supposed to be serving," the channel repeated stubbornly. "We have nothing to hide."

"The information is freely available to anyone who wants it," the Donor said, pointing to the last page of the draft pamphlet. "I'm not trying to hide anything. I'm just not forcing the details on people who would rather not know them."

"I don't see the difference."

"I know you don't." Den sighed, then began to gather his dishes. "Come on, we've got work to do."

The cold rain didn't prevent Save Our Kids and OLD SOKS from showing up just as the Collectorium opened, but it did shorten their tempers-and those of the donors who were subjected to the shoving matches between the two groups. Den refused to let Rital handle even the experienced donors alone, pointedly ignoring his cousin's ill-tempered grumbling about overprotective, interfering Gens who wouldn't trust a channel's judgment.

By the time the Collectorium closed, neither of them was able to endure the thought of dealing with the paperwork which had no doubt accumulated during the day's crises. Still, they trudged dutifully-and silently-towards their respective offices.

As they passed the back door, Rital stopped, a conspiratorial smile on his face. "You know, cousin--" he said with mock regret "--we really have been neglecting our duties lately. As chief administrators of this insane asylum, you and I are responsible for giving the staff a fair evaluation of their job performances. And yet, we haven't checked up on the groundskeepers in weeks."

There was no mention of chocolate, so it wasn't an apology for his harsh words about Den's pamphlet that morning. It's just as well; neither one of us has the energy to tackle that subject after such a day. Rather, it was an offer to declare a truce, so that they could heal each other of the damage done by the day's accumulated frustrations without prejudice. He's coming around, though, Den thought with sudden hope. The channel probably just wanted to wait until after their transfer, so that his thinking wouldn't be clouded by need. The pamphlet can wait until then, if that's what it takes to convince him I know what I'm doing. Shen, I'm not interested in discussing the stupid thing now, either.

"Our negligence is shocking," the Donor agreed, as a silly little smile crossed his face. "Why, the vegetable garden might be knee-deep in weeds. We really must correct this oversight immediately."

"Indeed we must." Rital nodded earnestly. "Even if the conditions out there are a bit primitive. No phones, no forms, no files, no reports..."

"Still, our pledges require that we carry out our duties, even if we must subject ourselves to such uncivilized conditions."

"True." The channel winked. "Let's get our capes, before it starts to get dark."

Grinning like two small boys contemplating mischief, the conspirators tiptoed up the back stairs to their rooms. Thanks to Rital's need-sharpened sensitivity, they were able to avoid detection, and five minutes later they escaped out the Center's back door.

They spent a leisurely hour wandering through the several acres of lawn, woods, and gardens which comprised the Center's back yard. Even in their late-summer weediness, cold, wet, and deserted, the grounds were beautiful.

For once, Den was glad of Reverend Sinth. It was the preacher who had incited such anti-Sime paranoia among the Center's out-Territory neighbors that the City Council had insisted on a large buffer zone between the Center proper and the nearest houses. Sinth had apparently hoped that the expense of purchasing so much land in the middle of the city would discourage the Tecton from building a Sime Center in Clear Springs. It hadn't, of course-in a selyn-based economy like the Tecton's, the cost of the land was trivial compared to the profit to be gained from so many previously untapped donors. Still, the gardens remained, providing a necessary refuge for the Center's embattled staff.

I've missed this, Den thought, as he let himself wallow in simple enjoyment of his cousin's growing need. It's been pretty frantic lately, but once our classes are approved, I'll be able to go back to being a full-time Donor again.

Rital might be a bit thick-headed at times, but there were far worse channels with whom to work. And maybe he'll be willing to help me figure out what happened during Jain's changeover. We've never managed that kind of field control before. It could have been a fluke, but if it wasn't, we might be able do it again, if we put some effort into it.

He grinned at the thought of recreating that perfection.

By the time the rain soaked through the two truants' heavy wool cloaks and forced them to return to the Sime Center, they were both in a much better mood. It was just as well, because Ref pounced on them as they came in the door.

"So you did go outside, Hajene Madz," the portly chef greeted the channel with surprise. "Seena said you probably had, but I didn't believe her." He held out a sheaf of papers. "Here's the list of food supplies we'll require this winter, in case the trains are snowed out again. We can't depend on the local stores now that Reverend Sinth is out of jail; they're apt to cancel our orders at the first cry of 'boycott.' Siv has offered to deliver my shopping list personally when he escorts young Jain to Valzor in two days, if you'll just sign for it?"

Like any Sime just a day from transfer, Rital was unable to muster any enthusiasm for food. However, he dutifully fished a pen out of his shirt pocket and took the document. Unable to see the print clearly in the gloomy hallway, and too lazy to bother zlinning the impressions the typewriter had left behind on the paper, the channel led them around the corner to the library.

Rital opened the door and stopped short, sudden concern marking his features. Absentmindedly passing the still unsigned supply list back to Ref, the channel slipped his pen back in his pocket and glided through the door. Den automatically signaled Ref to stay back and followed, half a step behind so that his cousin could handle the fields.

In the grey light which came through the window, he could make out Jain's thin figure, glumly staring out at the rain. Her depression was almost palpable even to Gen senses. She stiffened as she zlinned their entrance, but didn't turn to look at them.

Rital's right hand and tentacles grasped Den's wrist briefly, signaling the Donor to take charge of the situation. Trusting his cousin's professional judgment, even if he didn't yet understand the reason for the decision, the Donor moved further into the room. As he drifted closer to the young Sime, he took control of the fields with a careful precision which awakened a faint echo of the perfection he had felt at her changeover.

Maybe it wasn't a fluke after all.

"What's the matter?" he asked Jain, feeling the answer in his increased response to her. Turnover had a dampening effect on any Sime's mood, and the young renSime's retainers had finally arrived the day before. She would be traveling to Valzor with Siv and the grocery list in two days' time. The prospect of leaving her friends and family to make a new life for herself in a strange Territory, when her understanding of its language and culture was so incomplete, was enough to frighten any young Sime.

"Oh, I'm just wondering if it's worth it," Jain said listlessly. She reached out a hand to pull the curtains closed. Two handling tentacles automatically emerged to reinforce her grip, until she saw them and snatched them back into their sheaths.

Den was concerned at the gesture, although it did explain why Rital had decided not to handle the girl himself. A Sime's first turnover could be rough, but Den hadn't expected the onset of need to bring back Jain's aversion to her own tentacles. That was a pattern more typical of out-Territory Simes who had killed in First Need. Keeping his high-field nager carefully neutral to avoid provoking Sime jealousy in Rital, the Donor moved closer, smiled, gave her shoulder an encouraging squeeze, and asked, "If what's worth it?"

As Den had hoped, Jain hadn't yet acquired the Sime habit of depending entirely on zlinning to read the moods of those about her. Responding to the Donor's purely physical reassurance, she relaxed slightly and gestured vaguely, this time keeping her tentacles sheathed. "All of this. I mean, your classes, the channels...it's all supposed to keep more Simes alive, but why? The best I can hope for is to not kill-this month. I can't even be trusted to see my own father without you or one of the other Donors around to make sure I don't attack him. What kind of life can I have, when I'm a danger to everyone around me?"

Following Den's lead, Rital also put his arm around the girl, working to dispel her need-tension while the human contact offered comfort of a different sort. "Jain--" he explained with compassion "--part of being an adult-Sime or Gen-is having the ability to harm others, simply by being careless. When you were talking with your father, Sosu Den was there mostly to protect you. Your father wouldn't have meant to harm you, but he could easily have done it anyway, through simple ignorance."

"Hajene Rital's right, Jain," the Donor confirmed. "The Gens you'll meet in-Territory will know how to avoid hurting you, or provoking you into attacking them. Once you learn your own limits, you won't have to worry that you might kill someone by accident."

Jain stared at Den. "How can you say that?" she demanded incredulously. She nodded towards Rital. "If he hadn't stopped me two weeks ago, I would have attacked you! I certainly...wanted...you."

After a moment's though, Den remembered that instant right after her breakout, when Jain had forced herself hypoconscious to avoid the solid field control he and Rital had been maintaining. She had been scared out of her mind, not least by the channel's presence, and she had reached out to him for comfort the instant before need had overtaken her once more. She thinks she was attacking me, the Donor realized. Poor kid, no wonder she's been so overly careful about talking to the Gen staff when there isn't a channel or Donor around!

"Of course you wanted Sosu Den to stay within reach," Rital said. "That's what hard need does to a Sime, particularly when a Donor's working to arouse it. You never had a choice about wanting him."

"I deliberately provoked you into going for the nearest source of selyn-which happened to be Hajene Rital, not me," the Donor explained. "You had to be fully committed, or you wouldn't have had a satisfying First Transfer. You might even have succeeded in shenning yourself."

"Sosu Den knew exactly what he was doing, and he was never in the slightest danger," the channel confirmed. "Even if you'd gotten past me, you don't have the speed or capacity to harm a Donor, much less kill one."

Jain couldn't avoid zlinning the truth of their statements. However, it didn't seem to reassure her as much as the Donor had hoped. She shrugged off Rital's arm and plopped down on the couch. "So if I'm careful, and lucky, I won't actually kill anybody. I'll still be living on selyn, though. For every month I live, someone will have to..." She shuddered. "I was helping Alyce's crew trim the bushes in front yesterday, when that group of new pledges from the college sorority came in to donate. Some of them were terrified. What right have I to make people go through that every month, just to keep me from killing someone?"

Den sat down beside Jain, wishing that it had been possible to send the young Sime in-Territory more quickly, so that she could get a more realistic picture of her new life. It was futile to explain to her that Simes and Gens could live in peace, when all she had ever known was the armed truce which obtained between the Center and the Gens of Clear Springs.

"It's true, many out-Territory Gens are scared the first time they donate," he admitted. "The unknown is always frightening. Most donors get over their nervousness pretty quickly, though, once they discover that it doesn't hurt."

"But it does!" Jain insisted. In her distress, she was wringing her hands, her tentacles retracted so tightly that they formed visible lumps halfway up their sheathes. "I saw the marks on Daddy's arms. He was hurt giving me a month's worth of selyn. Even if I don't actually kill someone, how many people will end up suffering for me? I'm not worth that price."

Technically, Jain was not living on her father's selyn, since Rital had given the girl First Transfer while Tyvi had taken her father's field down. Still, Jain's concern was genuine, if poorly phrased, and deserved an honest answer. Besides, the Donor thought, it was never too early for a Sime to learn just how much Sime overprotectiveness could annoy a Gen.

"I think your father is smart enough to judge for himself whether he wants to donate," Den pointed out quietly. "If he decides that being able to see you is worth it, do you have the right to tell him he can't? He wouldn't appreciate your effort to 'protect' him out of doing what he thinks is right. Nor would any of the other Gens who want to give someone a month of life."

Jain wasn't convinced. "If Gens have the 'right' to give selyn, no matter how nasty it is, then Simes have the right to refuse to accept that gift. I won't live on other people's pain and terror."

"You don't have to," Rital said firmly. "Jain, I've taken donations from literally thousands of Gens, zlinning exactly what they felt. Most of the time, that's nothing. Yes, some donors are frightened the first time. A few of them even panic, like you father, and are strong enough to bruise themselves trying to escape, although channels always heal such injuries before we dismantle the contact. However, most Gens who come to the Collectorium aren't donating for the first time. They know I'll keep the selyn flow too slow for them to feel, so they're not afraid."

Jain stared skeptically at the channel until she was distracted by a hearty chuckle. "You'll never get a stubborn youngster like that to just take your word on something so important to her," Ref said from the doorway. "And why should she have to do so?" He tossed his shopping list onto a convenient chair and entered the room. "After all, zlinning is believing, isn't it, young lady?" He gave her a winning smile.

Jain returned the smile weakly, unsure of what he meant and whose side of the argument he was taking. The smile disappeared entirely as the chef casually began rolling up the sleeves of the heavy sweatshirt he had donned over his summerweight uniform to ward off the day's chill.

Den and Rital exchanged startled glances as they, too, realized what sort of demonstration Ref proposed. It's the perfect way to reassure her, the Donor thought. But the risks...

Ref was as steady as a general class donor could get; he wouldn't give Rital any surprises. However, there were some very good reasons why donations were usually taken in the insulated protection of the Collectorium's donation rooms. If someone innocently walked into the library while the donation was taking place, the disturbance in the ambient could cause a serious accident. On the other hand, moving the demonstration to the Collectorium, or even making a point of securing the room, would send exactly the wrong message to the already apprehensive young Sime.

Rital zlinned the area with need-sharpened sensitivity, then nodded to Den as he perceived no other nagers in their section of the building. He raised an interrogative eyebrow, asking his Donor's opinion.

He wants to do it, the Donor thought. So do I. My control's been a bit off lately, but if I'm careful, I should be able to cope with any trouble. Besides, it's the right thing to do for Jain.

"That's an excellent suggestion, Ref," Den approved the proposal. He adjusted the fields to allow Jain to zlin the others clearly, while at the same time blocking as much of her growing agitation as possible from Rital's need-sensitized perception. The Donor also took the precaution of firmly grasping his charge's elbow. He couldn't hope to hold against a Sime's strength, but the token restraint might discourage her from interfering physically at a bad moment.

"No, you mustn't!" Jain warned Ref urgently. "He's in need!"

"I know that." Ref gave her a reassuring smile, letting her zlin that his lack of fear was genuine, then turned to Rital and held out his hands. "Will you take my gift of life, Hajene--" he asked formally "--and pass it on to those who need it?"

"That is my duty and my privilege," Rital answered, equally formally. He took the offered hands and wrapped his handling tentacles around the Gen's wrists in the firm, light, comfortable grip of a channel working with an experienced donor, who could be trusted not to pull away.

Jain's eyes widened as their lips met, then lost focus as she fumbled her way hyperconscious. Den felt a sudden increase in his attraction to Rital, and Jain gasped in horror, tensing as she unconsciously prepared to attack the channel and rescue his Gen "victim."

Rital must have dropped his showfield, the Donor realized, so that she can zlin just how far into need he is. Den tightened his grip on her elbow in warning, and she reluctantly settled back to observe. Ref didn't react at all to the sudden voracious need the channel was projecting, but that was no surprise. As a general class donor, his response to Sime need was so small that he couldn't perceive it consciously.

Rital took his time with the donation, giving the inexperienced young Sime a chance to zlin to her satisfaction that he was indeed taking selyn from Ref, and that the Gen was not experiencing any fear or discomfort because of it, nor was Rital getting any relief from his own need.

When the channel released Ref, the chef murmured, "Thank you, Hajene," and began to roll the sleeves of his sweatshirt back down. Catching sight of Jain's astonished expression, he chuckled again. "Yes, that really is all there is to donating," he said kindly. "If you want a reason to stop living, you'll have to find another one. While you're looking, why don't you come to the kitchen and share a nice cup of trin tea with me? It's just the thing to cheer one up on such a gloomy day." Ref held out his hand coaxingly.

After a moment, Jain got up from the couch. Hesitantly, she placed her small hand in the chef's larger one.

Ref smiled down at her. "That's my girl," he said. "By the time we've finished our tea, the bread will have finished rising. Do you think you could help me with it?"

"I used to help my mother with bread all the time, before she died," Jain offered.

"Good, then, you know how it's done. Did you know that tentacles are very useful for kneading?"

Jain looked down in surprise and extended a thoughtful handling tentacle across the back of her free hand, flexing it experimentally. "I suppose they could be useful," she agreed, sounding almost cheerful. "What kind of bread are you making? My mother used to make the best sourdough..."

The two cooks departed for the kitchen, chattering about the virtues of various recipes.

Rital looked after them for a moment, then shook his head in disbelief. He retrieved Ref's requisition from the chair and signed it decisively, then came back to the couch and handed it to his Donor.

"Den, will you see that this gets into Siv's luggage?" he asked, sitting down.

"Sure," Den agreed, absently taking the papers. "If you'll do me a favor in return?"


The Donor grinned wryly. "Next time I try to pass myself off as an expert on out-Territory psychology, will you remind me of this?"


Professor Ildun arrived at the Sime Center's main reception area promptly at ten the next morning, accompanied by a tall, gangling young man with a startlingly prominent Adam's apple. "Sosu Milnan, this is my graduate student, Arth Tinkum. He's working on his doctorate, and is hoping that with your cooperation, the study I wish to discuss with you will make a suitable subject for his dissertation."

"Pleased to meet you," Den said.

Arth extended a hand, and the Donor shook it. The out-Territory greeting wasn't really that much more strange than the tentacle or fingertip touches exchanged between friends in-Territory. The difference being that the out-Territory version doesn't just apply to friends. On the other hand, the handshake forced both parties to reveal their body temperature and offer a forearm for inspection. And before the Tecton took over Sime Territory, a mandatory verification of Genness would have been a necessary safety precaution when dealing with strangers.

"Why don't we go up to my office, so you can tell me about this research project of yours?" Den suggested. He led the way, Ildun by his side. Arth tagged along behind them, weaving back and forth like a badly loaded trailer as he tried to peer into every door they passed. Den couldn't tell if the young man was simply curious about his surroundings, or if he was trying to spot any passing Simes before they spotted him.

When the out-Territory guests were seated in the Donor's small office, drinking trin tea (or at least Den and Arth were drinking it; Ildun had set his mug politely but firmly aside after the first taste), Den asked for the details of Ildun's project.

"It's rather simple, really," the professor explained. "Have you heard about the proposed new sliderail route between Clear Springs and Sanger, over on the Tinusa River?"

Den nodded cautiously.

"As you may know, the Office of Transportation requires that every sliderail route have at least one refueling station every fifty miles. That means either the route has to duck into Sime Territory, or they have to put in a Sime Center. Otherwise, they'd have to import the selyn batteries for the engines, and the Tecton charges so much for imported selyn that it's just not economical."

"I know," the Donor said, a little smugly. "We estimate they'll have to put in at least three new Sime Centers along the direct route between Sanger and Clear Springs, or four if they put in the detour around Guny Lake." It would be quite a coup for District Controller Monruss, if the project went through on his watch.

"Well--" Ildun continued "--Sime Centers have always been a bit...controversial, especially when they're so far from the border. Few people really want Simes living in their town, and politicians who invite the Tecton in tend to face difficult reelection campaigns. Or worse: seven years ago, Sanger's mayor was forced to withdraw his candidacy entirely after he allowed his town to be selected for a Sime Center instead of nearby Tinusa. Historically, Sime Centers have even inspired criminal behavior in their opponents, as happened at Innsfrey Island.

"New Washington wants the sliderail network expanded, and that means they're looking for some hard data to persuade local governments to cooperate." The professor's chest expanded with academic pride. "I've received a substantial grant from the Office of Transportation to study the impact of Sime Centers on the social dynamics of towns located a good distance from the border. We've targeted several critical subpopulations for intensive study, looking at the effects of various demographic variables and social factors on their interactions with and attitudes towards the Sime Center. To simplify the study, we'd like to focus on donating as a simple measure of interaction, since it is most likely to be internally motivated..."

Ildun broke off in mid babble as Den help up a hand. "Please, Professor," the Donor begged. "English is not my native language, and I suspect I know even less about your field of study than you do about mine. Could you try to keep it simple so I can understand you?"

As Ildun fumbled for a way to describe his request without resorting to his usual technical jargon, Arth came to his rescue. "It's easy enough," the student said. "We want to find out why people choose to donate at all, and why some of them keep coming back each month. If we can find out what things regular donors have in common, and how they differ from occasional donors and nondonors, we should be able to predict roughly how many potential donors there are in a given community, and who they are. We can do the same thing to characterize the people who oppose the Sime Center. That way, the Office of Transportation can concentrate their negotiations on likely towns, and not waste time with the others."

"I had originally intended to gather the data on donors through a collaboration with a colleague of mine in Westfield, since that city's Sime Center is much larger and has more donors," Ildun explained. "The reviewers weren't happy with that aspect of the study; Westfield is a border city, and so the demographics of its donors might not be representative of out-Territory donors in general. However, at the curriculum committee meeting two weeks ago, Hajene Madz implied that the number of donors in Clear Springs has been increasing rapidly. If my calculations are correct, there are now enough donors in Clear Springs, with a wide enough range of experience, for us to gather statistically significant results."

Shen you and your big mouth, Rital, Den thought. How am I going to get us out of this one without antagonizing Ildun too badly?

At the expression on the Donor's face, the professor hastily added, "We would, of course, be happy to give you full and appropriate credit when we publish our results."

"We'd like to run a two-staged investigation, with your cooperation," Arth said. "First, we'd like access to the donation records, so that we can get an idea of who your donors are."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," Den said, glad that he had a perfect excuse to "unwillingly" refuse the request. "We're required by Tecton law to keep all medical records confidential. You can imagine what someone like Reverend Sinth would do with such information, if it were available to the general public. Since neither of you are Sime Center staff, we can't let you read the files, unless we have a written release from each donor involved."

"We don't require information which would allow individuals to be identified, such as names and addresses," Arth said. "For our purposes, it's the demographic data that's important: gender, age, income, occupation, and so on. Would it be legal if you got a staff member to read us that sort of information from the files, with identifying numbers instead of names and addresses?"

Den nodded reluctantly. "Possibly; I'd have to consult a legal expert to be sure. You said there was a second part to your project?"

"Yes," Ildun said. "Demographic data will tell us a lot, but to round out the study, we'd like to ask donors to fill out a brief questionaire. It's the best way to get an idea of how various people respond to donating. I'm particularly interested in finding out if differences in subjective experience are an accurate predictor of future donation history. Ideally, I'd prefer a longitudinal study, tracking a cohort over time, but we'll probably have to make do with a cross section."

Den helplessly looked to Arth for a translation. "We'd like to know how each Gen reacted to each donation--" the young man obliged "--but since people don't remember their feelings accurately over time, we'll have to settle for asking each donor how they feel about donating, before and after, and how often they've donated. If we get enough responses, we can get a pretty good idea of what's going on." Arth smiled wistfully. "It's really too bad that there's no way to objectively measure emotions, particularly in the past. It would make this kind of research so much easier."

"Actually, in this case, there's a very good measure of each donor's emotions," Den said, becoming interested in spite of himself. "Our records show the..." he paused, searching for the best translation of the Simelan term, "...the speed at which the selyn is taken for each donation. This is largely determined by the donor's resistance, which is much greater when a Gen is angry or frightened. There are other good indicators, too. For instance, a channel won't qualify a donor as a GN-2 until he or she is comfortable enough with donating to relax completely."

The Donor realized that he had made Rital's favorite mistake, volunteering too much information, as Ildun grinned with delight. "That's marvelous! If you'll give Arth some idea of the normal variation, he can come up with a good statistical analysis. We'll still have to do the questionaire, though. A number can't tell you how someone perceives an event, and sometimes what people think they experienced is more important than what they actually did experience."

Den nodded in reluctant agreement, remembering how badly Jain had misinterpreted her own behavior during her breakout.

"The data we wish to gather might be very useful to you in your efforts to expand your roster of local donors," Ildun pointed out. With a meaningful smile, he added, "Not to mention its potential to help you get your changeover classes approved."

The professor paused to make sure that the Donor had time to absorb the implied threat, then added, "If you tailor your public relations efforts to the people who are most likely to respond positively, and leave the rest alone, then you can get a much better return on your investment."

Den prided himself on his knowledge of out-Territory culture, but the philosophy behind Ildun's last argument was so foreign to everything the Tecton stood for that the Donor found it profoundly disturbing. A Sime Center was supposed to reach out to all Simes and Gens, and persuade them to let go of their fears and cooperate with each other. How could the Tecton work towards the eventual dissolution of the Territory borders if it didn't even try to communicate with the people who required its assistance most urgently?

I'll never truly understand how out-Territory people look at the world, he admitted to himself. And I'm not sure I really want to do so.

On the other hand, Ildun's intent to retaliate if Den failed to join in his study was clear enough. The curriculum committee hadn't yet submitted its final report-and if Ildun "changed his mind after further examination of the issue" and joined Cessly's minority report, the school board might well decide that the classes were too controversial to approve. There was a bland confidence to Ildun's manner which showed that the professor was well aware of the strength of his position.

The Donor considered the logistics of the project carefully. Besides the channels and Donors, the Sime Center had two staff members cleared to handle the donation records: Seena ambrov Carre and Gati Forsin. The two shared duty as Collectorium receptionists, keeping track of which Gens had come in to donate, pulling their files, and seeing that the less experienced donors were assigned to the First Order channels. During peak hours, they were both busy, but it might be possible for one or the other of them to translate for Arth during slow periods. Since the records were written in the Simelan alphabet, security wasn't likely to be a problem even if an unexpected influx of donors or some other emergency called the translator away.

Den wasn't convinced that Ildun's study would provide any useful information. Gens came in to donate for a lot of reasons, and kept donating for as many more. However, the usefulness of having changeover classes in the schools was not in question.

"I can't give you permission to do the sort of study you describe," Den said at last, holding up a hand to forestall his guests' objections as he explained, "I don't have the authority. However, I will put the matter before our legal expert. If she approves it, then I'll discuss your proposal with Controller Madz." And he's NOT going to be happy about the idea, the Donor added mentally. Den wasn't terribly pleased himself at the thought of being blackmailed into taking on yet another time-consuming project. "Even if Controller Madz decides to participate in your study, though, I must recommend that he insist on two conditions."

"Name them," Ildun said.

"First, I don't want any of the donors hassled. You can ask them to fill out your questionaire once, but if they say no, I don't want to see any further pressure."

"That's fair enough," Ildun agreed. "People won't give accurate responses if they feel coerced, anyway. What's your other condition?"

Den looked at Arth. "I can have you classified as volunteer staff, so that you can enter the main part of the building. That means you can use a desk in our library for a work space, and eat in our cafeteria. However, if you're going to be spending a lot of time here, you're going to have to donate every month, and take the time to learn how to behave properly around Simes. Our staff renSimes stay out of the Collectorium, but it's not fair to ask them to stay on guard in the rest of the building as well, and we don't have enough Donors on staff to assign you a full-time Escort."

Arth's face had turned an interesting shade of green when Den mentioned donating. "I hadn't thought of this in terms of a participant study..." he started to object. Then he noticed his professor's stern glare and hastily added, "...but I'll be happy to donate if you and Controller Madz feel it's necessary." He smiled weakly. "It should be good for a chapter in my thesis, anyway."


Den finally managed to get rid of his visitors, leaving them with a promise that he would refer the matter to Rital as soon as possible. After escorting them back to the Center's front entrance, he stopped by the cafeteria for a sandwich and took it to his office. The cheese was not his favorite variety, but he hardly tasted it as he carefully read over the typed draft of his expanded changeover class curriculum which Jesper Reft, the bilingual typist who was the newest addition to the Center's staff, had transcribed from his scribbles. When he had marked the corrections he wanted, Den attached a note asking Jesper to make clean copies and send one to each member of the curriculum committee, all school board members, and Hank Fredricks at the Clear Springs Clarion. As an afterthought, he added Ed Buchan's name to the list. If the principal chose to lobby for the classes, the school board might well accept his expert opinion on their pedagogical soundness, even if the legal consultant or Rital vetoed Professor Ildun's research project and the sociologist defected to Cessly Lornstadt's minority report in retaliation.

Den stretched the kinks out of his shoulders, then decided to get some exercise and personally delivered the packet to Jesper. The young renSime promised to get to work on it immediately after lunch. The Donor nodded in approval, glad that there was at least one Sime around who didn't have to be ordered to eat regularly. Jesper had been getting very friendly with Seena, so perhaps that explained the man's unSimelike interest in food.

Back in his office, Den checked the clock, and decided that he had enough time to leave a message for Plicera ambrov Shaeldor, the Tecton's legal advisor in Valzor, before his scheduled transfer with Rital. To his surprise, the woman was actually able to speak with him immediately. He quickly outlined Ildun's research project, and asked about the legality of allowing the professor and his student to have limited access to the donation records for such purposes.

Plicera questioned him closely, and finally said, "Well, I'll have to look up the appropriate legal statutes and case law before I can be sure, but I don't see anything immediately to rule out such a project. The Tecton does compile some data from the medical records for internal use and publication, and this isn't too different. However, that's just an off-the-cuff opinion. Could I get back to you in a few days, when I've had time to study the matter in depth?"

"That would be fine," the Donor said, then glanced at the clock again and winced. "Listen, Plicera, I'm running late." With the barest minimum of courtesy, Den made sure that the woman had his proper name, address, and telephone number, and concluded the conversation. Barely pausing to hang up the receiver, he ran for the heavily insulated room used for the channels' transfers.

Rital was already waiting, pacing the floor, his tentacles restlessly searching for the life that they needed. He whirled with slightly augmented speed to face the Gen as the door opened. The naked relief on the channel's face as he recognized his Donor awakened instant guilt in Den.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, closing the door behind him as he entered the room. "I shouldn't have let myself be late." The Donor didn't offer any further explanation of his tardiness. Rital isn't going to be happy about Ildun's research project, and I don't require that argument messing up our transfer.

"All Gens lose track of the time occasionally," Rital said bravely, in a good approximation of his normal tone. "Besides, there's still almost fifteen minutes to go."

"It's not just today," Den admitted. "I've been neglecting you far more than I should, the past few weeks." His cousin's usual calm competence made it all too easy to forget that need was devastating for any Sime. Still, it was a Donor's job to make sure that his channel didn't have to face it alone...and Den had been letting paperwork and politics distract him from his primary responsibility.

The changeover classes are important, but I should have been spending more time with Rital, particularly after that rough turnover.

"You're here now," Rital pointed out irritably, squirming uncomfortably as he zlinned the Gen's self-condemnation.

With an effort, Den temporarily set his guilt aside where it wouldn't interfere with their transfer. "So I am," he agreed, as he turned his full attention on his cousin. The anxiety caused by Den's lateness had fully roused the channel's intil. The Donor felt himself responding as he guided Rital over to sit on the padded transfer lounge, eager anticipation driving out all other feelings. He didn't even regret that he was too late to enjoy his customary pre-transfer cup of trin tea, from the steaming pot placed temptingly alongside the medicines on the wetbench along the opposite wall.

By the time the fifteen minutes were over, Den was just as ready as his cousin. Rital's handling tentacles gripped his arms with augmented strength as the channel slaked his need with desperate haste. The speed of his draw was faster than usual, climbing perilously close to the Donor's limits. As the selyn flow peaked, for just an instant their fields meshed with the perfect harmony they had achieved at Jain's changeover. It felt marvelous, and Den didn't warn the channel to back off.

We're so close right now, he can't help but know what I can tolerate-probably better than I do.

When Rital had brought the transfer to his usual neat termination, Den was once more able to pay attention to external reality. He found himself pressed flat on the lounge, Rital lying almost on top of him, limp with relief. Patiently, the Donor waited for his cousin to recover. When Rital finally released his deathgrip on the Donor's arms and sat up, Den stretched luxuriously and grinned.

"Well, that ought to be worth a few points the next time we go into proficiency testing!" he remarked with smug satisfaction. Temmin won't find herself disappointed tonight, and from the looks of Rital, Gati won't, either. Grinning with anticipation, the Donor bounded to his feet to fetch them both some tea, then crumpled with a moan as a sledgehammer seemed to descend on his head.

Rital caught him before he hit the floor and deposited him back on the transfer lounge. "I'm sorry, Den," the channel apologized frantically. "I didn't mean to burn you. Say you'll be all right." He tried to zlin the severity of Den's injury, handicapped somewhat by his post-transfer loss of sensitivity, and much more by his own guilt and haste. "I'll never forgive you if you dare die on me, you idiot," he warned the Donor.

"I don't plan to die anytime soon," Den said, pushing his cousin aside and gingerly massaging his aching head. "Although I may change my mind if you keep yelling in my ear like that. Could you get me some fosebine, please?"

Augmenting, the channel raced for the sink on the opposite side of the room. Glass bottles clinked loudly as he rummaged through the medicines on the counter, scanning the labels rapidly. When he found the fosebine, he tore the lid off the bottle with two handling tentacles, flinging the hapless piece of metal aside to clatter against the wall. Den barely had time to wince at the noise before a glass was shoved under his nose, filled to the brim with noxious grey medicine. The sudden deceleration sent a liberal splash of liquid over the rim.

Den looked down at the large damp spot on the front of his shirt and sighed. "I'll be fine, Rital," he reassured the channel. "So you don't have to go and make a lot of extra work for the laundry crew." He sat up slowly, careful not to shake his aching head any more than absolutely necessary. "I'm not really burned, just scorched a little. I had a lot worse in training." The Donor forced his hand not to shake as he reached for the glass of fosebine and emptied it in three gulps, grimacing at the bitter taste.

He closed his eyes and waited for the medicine to take effect. When the pounding pain in his head had subsided a bit, he opened his eyes again. "It's not serious," he told the hovering channel. "Here, zlin for yourself."

Rital grasped the Gen's offered arms and made a full transfer contact, zlinning as deeply as he could so soon after transfer. Finally satisfied that his cousin wasn't about to expire on the spot, he let the Donor go. "I should've been more careful," he said, radiating guilt. "If I'd let the selyn flow get a little faster..."

"I'd have signaled you to slow down," the Donor said firmly. "And you would have done so, long before I was in any real danger."

With the immediate crisis ended, Rital was no longer able to hold off postsyndrome. He began sobbing uncontrollably as his guilt over hurting his Donor magnified all the petty failings and errors of the past two weeks, which need had prevented him from regretting before. Den hoped that the fleeting perfection that they had achieved during transfer wasn't included among those regrets. But in either case, he's not going to be interested in anything but self-flagellation tonight. Gati's going to be furious. The Donor patiently held his cousin and waited for the reaction to run its course, glad that the fosebine had masked his symptoms enough to allow him to function, if only at a minimal level.

When Rital regained his self-control, he insisted that the Donor go to bed immediately. Well aware of the dangers of ignoring even a mild transfer burn, Den complied. However, he refused to sleep in the infirmary, asserting that he didn't require anything but rest, and that his own bedroom was quieter, since it was at the back of the building, away from the chanting demonstrators on the front sidewalk. This logic didn't prevent Rital from sending Tyvi to examine the injured Donor, before her own transfer with Siv that evening blunted her sensitivity.

When she had left, after confirming that Den's injury was fairly mild, the Donor dozed fitfully for a few hours. He was awakened by the soft click of his door opening and closing. Hoping that someone had thought to bring him dinner, he sat up carefully and turned to greet his visitor.

To his surprise, it was Jain. She stood with her back against the door, watching him wide-eyed. "Reverend Sinth is right," she murmured, almost to herself. "Even channels can't stop themselves from hurting Gens when they take transfer. Why did you lie to me?"

"We didn't, Jain," Den said. "I'm not seriously burned, and I was never in any danger." Fighting sleep- and fosebine-induced grogginess, he groped for a way to explain the situation. "You were on the gymnastics team. Have you ever practiced your gymnastics so hard that you were sore the next morning?"

"Yes," she admitted cautiously.

"And even though you were sore, weren't you able to work longer and harder the next time you tried it?"

Jain nodded.

"Well, being a Donor works in a similar way," Den said. "Sometimes when you try to improve your abilities, you can get a little scorched. But just like with gymnastics, by working at your limits, you can change them. Wasn't it worth a little soreness, to improve until you were best gymnast you could be?"

Jain nodded again, very reluctantly.

"Well, I can't fulfill my potential as a Donor without stretching my limits-and I'd much rather suffer through an occasional headache than live as half the Donor I could be."

Den thought for a moment that she would accept his reasoning, but then she frowned. "Gymnastics doesn't usually hurt people so badly that they have to stay in bed," she argued.

Den laughed. "The only reason I'm still in bed is that Hajene Rital would nag me to death if he caught me wandering around. I'll be fine tomorrow."

When the young Sime's disbelieving expression didn't alter, the Donor beckoned impatiently. "Come here a moment," he ordered. When she had perched on the edge of the bed, he held out his arms. "You don't have to take my word for it," he reminded her. "You're a Sime now; zlin for yourself."

"I can't," Jain said, wrapping her arms around herself in sudden fear. "I might hurt you."

"Jain--" Den said patiently "--you're barely past turnover, and I'm so lowfield that you'd have to be in attrition before you'd be tempted to attack me."

After a moment of careful consideration, the young Sime nodded. Moving with exaggerated slowness, she took Den's hands and let her handling tentacles extend to wrap timidly around his wrists. She hesitated, meeting the Donor's eyes doubtfully.

"Go on," he encouraged, keeping his field as steady and reassuring as he could.

Finally, Jain's laterals emerged from their sheathes to brush his skin. Her eyes lost their focus as she zlinned deeply, then released the Gen.

"You see?" Den said. "I'm not hurt badly."

"I guess you're not, even if you are starving," Jain admitted. "Still, I'm glad I'm not a channel. Gens are awfully easy to injure."

"So are Simes," the Donor pointed out. "Now, could I get you to run down to the kitchen and ask Ref to bring me up a tray? As you noticed, I missed dinner."

The young renSime nodded and tiptoed to the door, in deference to his invalid status. However, Den heard her start to hum as the door closed, and she skipped all the way to the stairs.

Hmm, maybe I'm not so bad at out-Territory psychology after all.

Go To Chapter Six