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The morning sun shining through his bedroom window woke Den early. His headache had subsided to a mild throb, which disappeared entirely after he drank the dose of fosebine which Rital had left on his bedside table. Beside the medicine was a chocolate turtle. He took a bite out of it to rid his mouth of the bitter aftertaste of the fosebine.
Walnuts, he thought with satisfaction, taking another bite.
The confection wasn't enough to satisfy a hungry Gen, though, so he pulled on a fresh uniform and went down to breakfast. Rital caught him just as he finished and dragged him off to the insulated infirmary for a checkup. Den submitted willingly, even though it was obvious that the guilt-ridden channel wanted nothing more than to order him back to bed. However, even Rital had to admit that his cousin was fit for duty.
It was just as well, since Siv left with Jain immediately after breakfast to catch the morning train to Valzor. With only two First Order channels in Clear Springs, the Donors were rotated in-Territory occasionally to avoid dependencies. Siv would be temporarily assigned to the Valzor Sime Center until after his next transfer, and another Donor would be sent out for a few weeks. Much as he wanted to stay in Clear Springs, Den envied his colleague the temporary escape to a saner community.
After some consideration, the Donor asked the staff not to mention his injury around any out-Territory guests. If Jain's reaction was typical, the rumor mill would have him dead and Rital juncted before a day had passed-and unlike the young Sime, the Gens of Clear Springs couldn't zlin the truth for themselves.
On the other hand, the ability to perceive nagers didn't automatically mean that a Sime would interpret what he zlinned correctly. When Den, hoping to ease Rital's guilt, slipped into his cousin's office and offered a possible explanation for his erratic performance as a Donor over the past weeks, the channel dismissed it out of hand.
"Den, I'd love to believe your capacity was growing. We're not a bad match, but it's been far too long since I've had a Donor with a higher Proficiency Rating than mine. However, I'm afraid you're indulging in some wishful thinking."
"But it all fits!" Den insisted, counting off the arguments on his fingers. "One, it's been a long time since I was tested, and I'm still young enough for my capacity to grow. Two, that kind of growth happens most often when a Donor spends lots of time working with a channel whose capacity is greater-that's you, cousin. Three, my control has been gradually getting worse and worse, lately, just as you'd expect if I'm trying to use reflexes that no longer quite work for my new parameters. But on the other hand--" he ticked off the fourth finger "--when I'm really paying attention, and not relying on old habits, I'm working better than I ever have before. And finally--" he pointed to Rital's report of their transfer, which was occupying the center of the desk "--if your estimate of your draw speed is anything close to accurate, I should have been burned a lot worse than I was-unless my speed and sensitivity have grown." He looked at the channel in triumph, daring him to find an loophole in the logic.
Rital had flinched visibly at the Donor's final argument, but he was up to the challenge. "Den, I hate to tell you this, but it's hardly diagnostic that your control improves when you're paying attention. That's true for just about anyone. I'm not surprised that your reflexive control has been slipping, either. You've been spending an awful lot of time outside the Center lately, where there aren't any Simes to complain when you don't manage the fields properly. And as for our transfer--" he ran a tentacle over the report "--nerve burn is a tricky thing; it's not always possible to use the difference between draw speed and resistance to predict how bad an injury you'll get. I could have been off on my estimate of the selyn flow, too. As I said, I'd love to believe your theory was true, but I don't think it is."
"There are ways to find out," Den said quietly.
"No!" the channel said, just a little too quickly. "That would mean sending you in-Territory for an emergency Test, and I can't spare you. The only other way to get some idea if you've grown would involve pushing you beyond your documented limits. That's too risky. You've already been burned once," he explained more gently at the Donor's hurt look. "You're the only First Order Donor we've got at the moment, and as Controller, I can't risk having you unavailable when you're needed."
"We'll be getting another First before too long," Den pointed out.
"I'll think about it," was all Rital would promise.
Until Siv's replacement arrived, Den was responsible for both Rital and Tyvi. Fortunately, so soon after their transfers, neither channel required his assistance in the Collectorium with any but the most problematic donors, and there weren't any changeovers or other medical emergencies.
Rital refused to reconsider Den's request to help him to discover what the Donor's limits really were. When they worked together, the channel was almost obsessively careful not to exceed Den's obsolete official rating. His paranoia about hurting his cousin again overflowed into his dealings with the staff Gens and the out-Territory donors, offending the former and frightening the latter. Den tried his best to convince the channel to relax and trust in his abilities. However, Rital seemed to be avoiding the Donor whenever possible.
Den knew from long experience that it was useless to reopen an argument with his cousin before Rital was ready to listen. However, the stress between them was now an open secret among the Center's staff. Several of them had begun to take sides, despite their complete ignorance of what had caused the problem. Those who supported Rital hesitated to follow Den's instructions, and the Donor's camp started to question Rital's judgment. As a result, the smooth teamwork which was essential to respond to an emergency was beginning to shatter. And it's only a matter of time before the out-Territory donors notice that something's wrong.
To force Rital to confront the wall of misunderstandings which had grown up between them before the situation ended in disaster, Den took to acting like a perfect Tecton Standard Donor whenever he was in his cousin's presence. He followed his cousin's instructions to the letter, but refused to offer help until the channel specifically requested it, as if Rital were a strange channel whose requirements and preferences were unknown. When he wasn't on duty officially, he ignored his cousin as thoroughly as he was being ignored.
Of course, refusing to interact with one's channel more than strictly required wasn't exactly a Tecton-approved strategy for handling this sort of situation. Den would never have considered doing such a thing with a stranger, but he and Rital had had enough arguments when they were kids to develop their own procedures for settling them.
Eventually, the channel's need for a Donor's company would force him to settle with Den. In the meantime, the Donor kept busy catching up on paperwork, paying only enough attention to Rital to make sure that the channel didn't get himself into serious trouble. It wasn't any substitute for the easy friendship they usually shared.
Den's resolve almost broke when Rital started using the off-duty Third Order Donors as Escorts when he went across town to refill the selyn batteries at the power plant, claiming that it was more important to have Den available for the Collectorium and emergencies. Even at highest field, a Third couldn't shield a First from an angry mob. However, under Tecton regulations, there wasn't much Den could do about it. Because of the Donor shortage, First Order channels were officially encouraged to work with the lesser Donors, in hopes of bringing out any latent potential.
Den wished his cousin were half as interested in his own latent potential. However, he couldn't deny that he was being run ragged trying to keep up with two channels, especially after Thaddus Webber returned his draft curriculum, with a polite request that it be modified in light of the committee's list of suggested changes, and returned as soon as possible.
Den's euphemistic pamphlet, however, was accepted with only token editing of the grammar. The Donor magnanimously refrained from mocking Rital with a well-deserved, "I told you so." It would be very unprofessional to treat his Controller that way, and besides, it was obvious to his experienced eyes that his cousin had gotten the message without benefit of such a taunt.
Five days after Siv's departure, Plicera called to confirm that Ildun's request for limited access to demographic information from the Center's donation records could legally be granted. "I'll send you my official analysis, of course, but that may take a few days to arrive, the interterritorial mail service being what it is."
Rital's response to Ildun's research proposal was immediate and predictable, when Den found the channel sitting in his office attending to some routine paperwork. "Let an out-Territory Gen wander around the Sime Center, poking his nose into our records? It's out of the question," the channel fumed, tentacles lashing in irritation. "I don't know why you even bothered to call Valzor and get a legal opinion."
"I didn't have much choice," Den said unhappily. Quickly, he explained the professor's thinly veiled threat to join Cessly's minority report against the changeover classes, if his request for access to the records was refused.
"If Ildun turns against our classes, that will show the school board that it isn't just Sinth and his crowd who oppose them, and they'll vote our classes out," the Donor finished. "If Ildun is really feeling vindictive, he could spread a few hints and rumors, and get the whole town roused against us."
"Really, Den, there's no reason to get so melodramatic," Rital said. "If Reverend Sinth hasn't been able to turn the town against us, in two years of trying, there's no reason to think that Ildun can do better."
"Yes, there is," the Donor contradicted his cousin. "Sinth's a religious leader of a small denomination, and that automatically limits his authority with those of other, competing faiths. Ildun's a scientist, and scientific findings apply to the members of all religions. A few well-chosen remarks, and we could be right back to where we were two years ago. Except that this time, we'd have District Controller Monruss and the Office for Interterritorial Affairs breathing down our necks."
"That would happen anyway, if this graduate student does something stupid and gets himself killed," the channel pointed out.
"It's less than a month until the school board makes its final decision about the changeover classes," Den reminded him. "Once Ildun has signed the majority report, he can't oppose us without labeling himself a hypocrite. With care, we should be able to prevent an accident that long. After the school board makes its decision, we can cancel the project at the first sign of trouble."
The channel's mouth kept its unyielding expression.
"It's the only way I can see to protect what we've accomplished here," the Donor pleaded. "I understand out-Territory politics better than you; you've admitted that often enough. Can't you trust my judgment on this?"
"Your political judgment hasn't exactly been infallible lately, cousin," Rital said, gazing meaningfully at Den's left cheek.
The Donor squirmed, even though the last of the walnut juice stain had long since disappeared.
"I know a serious accident waiting to happen when I zlin one," the channel said firmly, in the tone which meant that the topic was closed. He picked up a pen and reached for the next document in his "in" box.
However, Den was in no mood to let a stubborn channel destroy both their careers. Not caring for the moment how much the words would hurt his cousin, he snapped, "You don't zlin every accident coming, Rital Madz!"
The pen snapped, spilling ink all over the document, as the channel took in this unfair reference to the injury he had inflicted on his Donor. He raised a sheet-pale face to stare at Den in stunned disbelief.
He really is feeling guilty, Den thought, feeling a bit penitent himself for taking advantage of it. And it's not exactly ethical to use that against him when I've eaten his apology. However, for both their sakes, the Donor couldn't afford to yield.
Rital's shoulders slumped in defeat as he zlinned the Gen's determination. "All right," he conceded gracelessly. "You can let this graduate student do his research, after I've taken his field down. Personally. However--" and he pointed a stern tentacle in Den's direction "--you are solely responsible for teaching him proper manners, and the first time he causes the slightest trouble, he's out. Whether the school board has voted or not."
"Fair enough," the Donor agreed, and left to inform the professor that he could begin his study.
Within the hour, a petrified Arth showed up at the Collectorium. Rital spent almost twenty minutes talking with the young man before taking his field down. This didn't prevent Arth from struggling in blind panic from the moment the first tentacle touched him. The channel grimly ignored the graduate student's physical and nageric protests and stripped as much selyn from the Gen as humanly possible, knowing that each dynopter he took would decrease the chances that Arth would be able to provoke the staff renSimes into an attack.
Fortunately, Arth didn't seem to blame Rital for his fear. Afterwards, Den showed the student which areas of the Center he was allowed to enter. He also described in detail the proper behavior for a non-Donor Gen around renSimes, using Jesper, who had had transfer less than a week before, to demonstrate. The two Gens also discussed the information which could be deduced from the donation records, and what times Den, Gati, or Seena would most likely be available to translate. Of course, with one less First Order Donor than there should have been, Den expected that he wouldn't have much free time for the project for a while.
The Donor saw to it that Arth was watched closely for his first few sessions in the library. To make sure that the student had absorbed his lessons in etiquette, Den sent the steadier staff renSimes to test him, while one of the Third Order Donors idled over a book or newspaper on the other side of the room and observed. While Arth was clearly uncomfortable around Simes, Den's informants reported that the student handled himself reasonably well, and that there was no immediate danger of him provoking a renSime into an attack.
At least, not as long as he's lowfield, the Donor thought grimly, cursing Ildun once more for forcing this project on him when he didn't have time to deal with it properly. Fortunately, Arth didn't have a particularly strong nager, though Den was quite prepared to order the student to donate early if there wasn't significant improvement in his manners.
All in all, Den was very glad when Siv's replacement arrived on the evening train, almost a week after the other Donor's departure-until he joined the rest of the staff in the reception area to offer his greetings and saw who it was. The balding, dignified older gentleman with the quiet air of command was unmistakable.
Quess ambrov Shaeldor not only possessed a Proficiency Rating considerably higher than Den's was ever likely to be, he was also one of the Tecton's most noted diplomats. Barely six months before, he had almost single-handedly negotiated an end to the decades-long war between the small Sime Territory of Cordona, on the Southern continent, and its two neighboring Gen Territories, Amzon and Zillia. In the process, he'd convinced all three governments to become signatories to the First Contract.
If that were all the man had done, Den might have welcomed an expert's perspective on the local situation. However, Quess had no sooner returned from his triumph then he'd been asked to chair an official investigation into the ongoing conflict surrounding the Clear Springs Sime Center. In the end, the senior Donor had reluctantly cast the deciding vote which had allowed Den and Rital to continue to work out-Territory. Unfortunately, he had made his skepticism about their ability to handle the situation very clear before he did so. He had also added the qualifying recommendation that they be much more closely supervised from Valzor.
District Controller Monruss had declined this open invitation to micromanage their actions. However, as far as Den was concerned, Quess was a menace to his and Rital's efforts to spread changeover training to the schools by unconventional means.
Not to mention what this does to my hopes of getting Rital to work with me, instead of against me.
It didn't help that the man had the typical Householder's disdain for those who failed to accomplish miracles on demand-or that his own record proved that he more than lived up to the standards by which he measured others. For instance, the older Donor would never dream of being less than courteous to a colleague, however awkward their last meeting. When he saw Den, Quess smiled cordially in greeting and said, "Sosu Milnan, it's good to see you again."
"Welcome to Clear Springs," Den replied, somewhat stiffly. He was glad that Quess was a fellow Gen; he would never have been able to conceal the extent of his hostility from a channel.
As it was, Rital was giving him that sideways look which meant that he intended to give his cousin a private scold at the first opportunity. "Sosu Quess will be staying with us for at least the next two months, barring emergencies, of course," the channel announced.
Two months? Den groaned inwardly. There was a certain smug tone to Rital's voice which warned the Donor that he shouldn't expect his cousin to settle their differences any time soon. He won't admit that I'm right about how to handle publicity for our classes, much less help me learn if my capacity's growing, as long as that interfering busybody offers him an alternative to dealing with me! The illustrious Quess ambrov Shaeldor was too important to be left in a minor out-Territory Sime Center like Clear Springs for very long, but Den was rapidly running out of time. I could outwait him if it was just my own growth at issue, but we haven't got that flexibility if we're going to get the classes approved.
Quess favored the younger Donor with a courteous smile, which had enough genuine warmth to appear spontaneous. "I looked over your reports for the last few months before I left Valzor," he said. "You really have made some remarkable progress in the last six months, particularly with your effort to expand changeover classes into the schools. And now Naztehr Plicera tells me that you've started a joint research project with an out-Territory professor."
Shen renSimes and their endless gossip! Den thought savagely.
Oblivious to the younger Donor's rage, Quess continued, "I'd very much like to learn how you've managed to get such cooperation with the out-Territory community. Your unconventional approach could be valuable to the Tecton."
"You didn't think so last spring," Den pointed out, not even trying to hide his bitterness. "In fact, I seem to recall that you had some grave doubts as to whether my cousin and I should be allowed an out-Territory license at all."
The older Donor shrugged. "I was wrong," he said simply.
Life would be a lot less complicated if Rital was so willing to admit his mistakes, Den thought morosely, glaring at the Householder, and it would be much more satisfying to dislike Quess if he wasn't so absolutely ethical. Any normal person with a record like Quess's wouldn't have freely admitted such a major mistake to an obviously hostile and contemptuous subordinate. It would have been much easier for the other Donor to credit the recent progress in Clear Springs to the intervention of his own investigating committee in curbing a pair of mavericks. By refusing to do so, the Householder was proving that he was twice the professional that Den was. It was a very subtle rebuke-and a very effective one.
"I'd be happy to discuss my current efforts with you," Den managed to get out, although his voice sounded stiff and wooden.
"I'm looking forward to it." Quess turned to Rital and asked, "Could someone show me to my room so that I can freshen up before dinner?"
"Of course," the channel said, signaling Seena to see to it.
As the receptionist escorted Quess towards the stairs which led to the living quarters, Den noted that the diplomat's immaculate uniform still had regulation creases on the sleeves and pants legs, even after the long day he had just spent on the train. Den's own uniform was a bit rumpled after his day's work, and, he noticed for the first time, he'd apparently spilled some soup on his shirtfront during lunch. It was the final humiliation.
Unable to face the avid curiosity of the staff, who weren't often treated to the spectacle of open hostility between Donors, Den stumbled down the corridor to the library. He had hoped for a few minutes alone to recover his composure, but he didn't even have time for a sigh of relief before a furious Rital burst into his sanctuary.
"Did you have to insult the man to his face, and in public, too?" the channel demanded, his handling tentacles lashing in fury.
"Why not?" Den asked, absurdly driven to defend his indefensible behavior. "I don't care how polite Interterritorial Affairs is about maintaining the fiction of a 'routine rotation of Donors.' The distinguished Sosu Quess ambrov Shaeldor has far too much seniority to get assigned anywhere his particular talents aren't urgently required. We're on trial again, Rital, and this time, they didn't even have the courtesy to give us an official notification."
"If Sosu Quess is here to report on how we're doing, that's all the more reason to be polite to the man," Rital reminded his cousin. "After all, I can hardly complain to Monruss about the assignment. He's the best Donor who's ever been sent out here."
"And you can't wait to get your tentacles on him, can you?" Den was appalled at his own words, but he couldn't stop the purely Gen jealously which nearly consumed him at the thought of the other Donor monopolizing his channel while Den himself was stuck with Tyvi. Not that he had anything against her, particularly, but they had very little in common, and her draw speed and selyn capacity were far too low to satisfy him. Especially now.
"That was uncalled for," Rital said coldly.
Den's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry," he apologized. He met the channel's eyes miserably. "But are you really so mad at how I botched our last transfer that you'd rather just get rid of me?"
Rital's expression softened, and his hands and handling tentacles gripped the Donor's biceps with reassuring Sime strength. "Cousin, as far as I'm concerned, you're staying here as long as I can keep you, Quess or no Quess. But could you do me a favor and at least try to get along with him?"
After a moment's consideration, Den nodded. "If I have to, I will," he agreed reluctantly. "Just don't ask me to like the man."
Over the next week, Den did his best to keep his promise. He spent several long sessions with Quess, explaining the local politics as well as he could, and going over the progress of the past year. The older Donor was a bit skeptical at first of Den's claim that the situation was under control, particularly after seeing Save Our Kids and OLD SOKS in action on the front sidewalk, but the increase in donations over the past summer spoke for itself.
Quess was careful not to undermine the younger Donor's position with the Sime Center's staff, even though his higher Proficiency Rating made him the final authority for any matters requiring a Donor's arbitration. Instead, he managed to back both Den and Rital, and in doing so, demonstrated to everyone that the two were in general agreement on most matters. Without clear sides to choose from, there was little point in trying to play Den against Rital, or vice versa. The petty bickering among the staff decreased, and morale improved, although not to the level of the previous summer.
To demonstrate his gratitude for this consideration, Den took Quess to the Sudworks Brewery for the weekly OLD SOKS meeting. There he introduced Tohm and Silva to the older Donor as the masterminds behind the otherwise loosely organized group of counterdemonstrators. To his disgust, the two law students took to Quess at once, plying him with question after question about his diplomatic career. At least when they asked him why he was in Clear Springs, the other Donor had the decency to cite "personal reasons." The last thing Den could afford was to be faced with a rumor that he and Rital were under investigation for possible misconduct.
Quess never referred to his unofficial mission, or to the influence his expert opinion would carry. Instead, the senior Donor pursued his stated objective of learning as much as possible about Den's methods of handling political controversy in out-Territory towns. While he asked some pointed questions about some of the more unconventional tactics Den was using to promote the changeover classes, such as his newspaper column and the carefully crafted "information" pamphlet, he also listened carefully to the younger Donor's answers, and didn't hesitate to offer praise where he thought it was appropriate.
After some thought, Den decided to use the other Donor's interest in his publicity campaign to his own advantage. Rital might refuse to accept what he viewed as unethical half-truths from Den, but it would be much harder to object to the same tactics coming from a Donor with Quess's ability and reputation for fair dealing. When the final draft of Den's information pamphlet came back from Rital's desk with a stiff note of approval, despite the continued presence of the objectionable euphemisms, the Donor couldn't suppress a smug smile of victory.
This didn't prevent him from sending the pamphlet off to the printer's immediately, just in case his cousin's infatuation with Quess wasn't enough to prevent second thoughts, and a last-minute editing session.
In fact, Den was forced to admit, if only to himself, that he might even have grown to like Quess-if the man weren't such a fiendishly talented Donor. It was bad enough to see another Gen in Den's accustomed place at Rital's side. It was far worse to see his cousin blossoming under that other Donor's expert attentions.
Reluctantly, Den decided that it was probably just as well that he wouldn't be able to have another transfer with Rital for a few months, even though the delay prevented him from learning if his hypothetical new capacity actually existed. When a Donor started feeling that possessive about a channel, it was all too easy to "accidentally" allow a dependency to develop. But it's spending time with him that I miss the most, not our transfers.
To keep his mind off Rital, Den threw himself into looking after Tyvi. He made sure that she ate at least two meals a day, and scheduled some time each evening to spend with her. He would work on getting rid of the day's accumulated tension, or sometimes just share a cup of tea. Although Den wasn't as talented as Quess, his Proficiency Rating was considerably higher than Siv's, and like Rital, Tyvi was openly enjoying the luxury of having a Donor whom she couldn't possibly hurt. Den knew that he'd never feel particularly close to her, but by watching her pleasure, he was able to rediscover the contentment of working with a channel for the simple satisfaction of using his talents as they were meant to be used.
With another Donor to share the workload, Den was able to devote more time to his own projects. By juggling the schedules around, he was able to ensure that someone would be available to translate donation records for Arth for two hours every weekday afternoon. Den still couldn't see any real patterns to the numbers, beyond the obvious one that experienced donors were less frightened than the "virgins," as Gati referred to them, but Arth was almost chortling over his data sheets. More importantly, Professor Ildun was equally enthusiastic-and being an honest blackmailer, he threw his full support behind the changeover classes.
They had never required it more, for Reverend Sinth was running a down-and-dirty, no-holds-barred misinformation campaign to scare Clear Springs parents into demanding that the school board reject the conclusions of its study committee. The preacher had enlisted the aid of the owner of the Clear Springs Graphic Design Ship, an outspoken supporter of Save Our Kids, to help him with publicity. The result of their collaboration was four slick, professional-looking pamphlets, guaranteed to give solid credibility to the most insubstantial rumor. From somewhere, Sinth had raised the money to have hundreds of copies printed, despite having been unemployed since he'd resigned his position as pastor of the local Conservative Congregation Church over a year before. Save Our Kids members almost abandoned their self-appointed task of harassing donors, and instead spent hours distributing the literature, walking through neighborhoods to stuff the pamphlets in mailboxes. They also haunted all the public gatherings they could find, including the university campus, the downtown shopping district, the Farmer's Market, and even the opening performance of the Clear Springs Comic Opera Company's fall season.
Den doubted that there were more than a handful of Clear Springs residents who hadn't seen the propaganda. He certainly didn't have the resources in the Center's slush fund to print his own pamphlets in rebuttal, much less distribute multiple copies to everyone in town. Even if he'd had the money, it was unlikely that Rital would approve the kind of hard-hitting attack which would be necessary to counter Sinth's propaganda. However, the Donor wasn't totally helpless when it came to reaching the public.
Thanks to Sinth's efforts, the changeover classes were suddenly NEWS. Hank Fredricks, and thus his Clear Springs Clarion, had always been a solid supporter of the Sime Center. He was more than willing to send a sympathetic reporter over to interview Den for a full-length feature on the classes, to be printed in the next Sunday edition. More than half of Clear Springs' residents would see it there, even considering that the Clarion's circulation figures included sales in the neighboring, smaller towns.
In addition, Den had been writing a regular Sime Center column for the Wednesday local news section for over six months. He decided that his next contribution would be devoted to some of the more widely believed claims in Sinth's pamphlets. A point by point refutation would be much too long for a column, or even two, but Den decided to write one, anyway. He could present it and the revised curriculum outline to the reporter Fredricks was sending. Reporters had a professional obligation to discuss both sides of an issue, but they also tended to have deepset objections to being used to promote outright lies. Sinth's complaints about the classes would still be included in the story, of course, but if they were followed by Den's rebuttals, they were unlikely to win the preacher any converts.
Den was able to get copies of Sinth's propaganda from Silva. Two days before the reporter was to interview him, the Donor was finally able to clear an entire evening for the project. He worked his way steadily through the summary of Cessly Lornstadt's minority report in Six Reasons to Stop the Classes, the lurid descriptions of "obscenities" in What the pro-Sime lobby wants to put in YOUR child's textbooks, and the arrant nonsense in Are you one of the parents who has been FOOLED? ("Children will be going through changeover in the halls, used as visual aids, so no films will be necessary!") He was starting on the conspiracy theory outlined in The SECRET TRUTH About the Tecton when Quess poked his head in the door.
"What are you working on so late?" the other Donor asked.
"Just some damage control," Den remarked absently, making another note on his page. When he had finished, he set down his pen with a sigh, glad for the distraction, and invited Quess in with a wave. "For instance, did you know that according to this pamphlet--" he pointed to his current project "--the Tecton assigned you to Clear Springs to prepare the way for Tecton forces intent on overthrowing the legitimate city government in favor of a Sime dictatorship?"
"I wonder why nobody bothered to brief me on this alleged mission?" Quess asked, picking up the tract. His eyebrows rose as he read it, then exchanged it for another. After skimming the second pamphlet, he dropped it back onto Den's desk in distaste. "These are disgusting," he said.
"I know--" Den agreed "--but simply because they are so outrageous, there is a certain percentage of people who will be eager to believe everything in them. There will be many more who aren't sure what to believe, and don't have the time to check out the rumors for themselves. Those people may well decide that they'd rather not let Center staff into the schools, just in case there's something to Sinth's accusations."
"So what are you doing to counter this propaganda?" the older Donor asked, with unfeigned curiosity.
Den explained, adding, "The paper won't publish the full rebuttal, of course, but if an ostensibly 'neutral' source like the newspaper reveals that three or four specific claims in the pamphlets are outright lies, people are likely to assume that the rest of the rumors are nonsense, too."
"I see," Quess said. "What about people who don't read the paper?"
Den shrugged. "If our side of the story gets enough coverage in the newspaper, they may hear the truth from their subscribing friends. Otherwise, we'll just have to hope that they don't show up at the school board meeting two weeks from now to join Sinth's crowd in opposing the classes."
"It sounds very haphazard."
"It could be worse. The people who're interested enough in local events to attend a school board meeting are also very likely to keep informed by reading the local paper regularly," Den pointed out. "It's the transient part of the population, especially the college students, who usually don't bother." Den grinned. "Not that Hank Fredricks isn't trying to change that, with the Clarion's special back-to-school supplement this week. This year the Sime Center got a mention under Community Resources. It might even pull in some new donors; there's a pizza coupon printed just above it."
Quess shook his head in amazement. "Well, I wish you luck with your rebuttal."
"Thanks," Den said. "I have a sinking suspicion I'll require it."
When the reporter showed up to interview Den for the Clarion, he was glad but not surprised that Hank Fredricks had sent Tohm's older sister Henna. She wasn't a donor, but she was young enough to be flexible about new ideas, and it was obvious that she was more than a little proud of her little brother's leadership role in OLD SOKS. Equally important, Reverend Sinth had made the mistake of patronizing her when she had interviewed him the previous day-and he hadn't bothered to hide his hostility towards her brother, either. As a result, she was more than ready to expose the preacher as a liar.
Her feature article was informative, accurate, and entertaining-and Fredricks placed it on the page facing the movie guide. Suddenly, every club, civic association, and professional guild was calling the Sime Center to get a speaker to educate their group on changeover training. There were so many requests that Den called the Center's staff together and asked for volunteers, arming them with his course outline and making sure that they had read both Sinth's pamphlets and his own rebuttals. Most of the fabrications were pretty self-evident, but he didn't want anyone to hesitate in sheer surprise if someone in the audience threw one of Sinth's more exotic whoppers at them.
To no one's surprise, considering his diplomatic career, Quess proved to be a particularly effective speaker. He even managed to get a solid endorsement for the changeover classes out of the ultraconservative Downtown Businessman's Association. He simply pointed out that the narrow alleys behind their stores were a favorite hiding place for changeover victims, and that the possibility of confronting a berserker raised the cost of delivering merchandise, the cost of medical insurance for employees, and even scared away potential customers.
Den put a similar emphasis on safety at a well-attended lecture at the library, and made sure that Miz Dilson had plenty of copies of his curriculum for interested parents to read. He gave a similar presentation at an informational meeting Principal Buchan organized for his faculty and staff. The principal took the Donor aside afterwards and asked him if he would mind testifying when the battery-and-vandalism case against Sinth went to court in a week and a half.
"I just want a witness who can confirm that Sinth ordered the attack, and that I was injured when they smashed my windshield," he explained.
"I'd be happy to assist you. Would you like Controller Madz to come as well?" Den offered.
Buchan considered a moment, then shook his head. "No, better not," he said regretfully. "Judge Banklin is pretty openminded, but I don't think it would help my case if I brought a Sime into her courtroom."
Save Our Kids did their best to disrupt any gathering featuring a Sime Center speaker, but they had surprisingly little luck. Many of the meetings weren't open to the general public, which limited the demonstrators to chanting outside the building, and passing out their pamphlets. Unfortunately, they weren't much more polite in their efforts to prevent people from attending meetings than they were when trying to scare off donors. To draw public attention to this rudeness, Den instructed his speakers to take a few minutes at the beginning of each talk to expose the worst errors in whichever pamphlet the demonstrators were trying to force on the audience.
More than once, before or after a meeting, Den overheard the nondonors in the group express alarm at the fanaticism and violence of the Save Our Kids' demonstrators. The consensus seemed to be that while Sime-loving donors and pro-Sime activists like the members of OLD SOKS were fair game for violent harassment, identical efforts directed against members of the general public who had not taken a pro-Sime stance was dangerous extremism. Den couldn't quite see the logic behind this reasoning, but as long as it was turning people against Sinth's anti-class campaign, he wasn't about to complain.
Arth's research was also proceeding on schedule. The graduate student had finished gathering data from two hundred records, which he had decided through some arcane mathematical calculation was enough for a preliminary analysis. He was now busy with the second part of his research project. He had set up a table in the Collectorium's waiting room, where he passed out questionnaires to every donor who would consent to look at one. Den was surprised at how many people took the extra fifteen minutes required to fill them out.
A week before Den's scheduled transfer with Tyvi, Rital dropped by his office. "I've got some good news for you," the channel said.
"Quess has decided to leave immediately for darkest Africa, so I'll be giving you transfer after all?" Den guessed facetiously, noting the green transfer assignment card in his cousin's hand.
Before their falling out, such a comment would have earned the Donor a laugh. Now, however, Rital's only response was a raised eyebrow and a pained expression.
"Not quite," the channel said. "It turns out that Tyvi's son Obis is between assignments, and he's gotten permission to spend a few weeks visiting her."
Family visits were a low priority for the Tecton at any time, Den reflected, but Householders certainly managed to wrangle more than their fair share of what few were allowed. It wasn't discrimination, exactly, but a disproportionate percentage of Householders held high office in the Tecton. Householding-affiliated Controllers usually spent more time getting to know staff members who were fellow Householders, and were thus able to consider family and friendships when making assignments. It was much easier to arrange visits before the schedule was drawn up.
"Obis was supposed to serve Controller Monruss this month, but when Monruss called just now, we talked it over and decided to let the kid give his mother transfer," Rital continued. "You'll be going to Valzor this month instead, assigned to Monruss." The channel grinned. "You've been very good about it, but I know you don't particularly like Tyvi."
"True, although she's a lot better than nothing," Den admitted. But if I can't have you, cousin, he added silently, I'd rather not be around to see you enjoy Quess instead. Not to mention seeing Gati enjoy you... Temmin's interest had quickly waned after Den's injury, and she had started to pursue Quess from the moment he arrived. So far, the senior Donor's lack of interest didn't seem to be discouraging her.
"Controller Monruss was my first assignment after I finished training--" Den continued "--and I confess I've had a soft spot for him ever since. It'll be good to spend some time in civilization, too. The social life in Clear Springs is kind of limited." He reached for the card, visions of drowning his sorrows at Nippan's, his favorite nightclub, dancing through his head. Then he read it more closely and groaned.
"Den, what's the matter?" Rital asked as he zlinned the Donor's sudden dismay.
"Look there." Den pointed at the date of transfer. "It's two days early!"
"You don't have to worry about that," the channel said gently, in the reassuring tone he used on nervous general-class donors. "Monruss is actually rated a bit lower than Tyvi. You'll have more than enough selyn for him."
"What?" Den looked at his cousin in bewilderment, then flushed with outrage as he caught the channel's meaning. "Rital, I hate to deprive you of an obviously much-loved guilt trip, but you'd have to burn me a lot deeper than that before I'd start getting transfer-shy."
"Than what's the problem?" Rital asked, genuinely bewildered.
"You and Monruss have gone and scheduled me for a transfer in Valzor on the night the school board is supposed to decide whether they're going to allow our changeover classes into the school!"
Go to Chapter 7