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The Rational Deists were only one small out-Territory denomination among many, however, and Den quickly lost interest in them as more important concerns occupied his attention. His transfer with Tyvi satisfied the channel, if not Den. The Donor soothed his frustration by reminding himself that after two transfers in a row with Quess, Rital was overdue for a rotation. Monruss was hardly likely to send another First Order Donor out to Clear Springs when Den was already present.
Sure enough, the green transfer assignment card which appeared in Den's mailbox a few days later had his cousin's name on it. The Donor put it in a place of honor on his desk, right next to the waiting list of students for the changeover classes. Whenever he had to stay in his office and plow through his paperwork, he would pause frequently to gloat over both documents.
Two transfers with Quess had left Rital in excellent shape, so Den didn't have to spend time on the extensive therapy which the channel had required after inadequate transfers with Siv Alson. Instead, Den held Rital to his promise to help the Donor learn to use the new capacity in which the channel still had difficulty believing. They spent at least an hour every day working on basic training drills. Making a full transfer contact, Rital would manipulate his cousin's fields, and Den would try to perceive the ever-smaller selyn flows and respond appropriately. It was the sort of simple exercise that new Donors were taught to make proper field handling a reflex. Den found the drills more frustrating the second time around, because he had to unlearn his old reflexes before he could master the new ones.
He persevered, though, and slowly, his performance improved. Then Rital started throwing unexpected field gradients at him while they were working, forcing him to be aware of the fields at every moment, lest he suffer the embarrassment of being caught in the wrong place to balance the ambient. Gradually, the channel became less selective about choosing an appropriate time for these drills, until Den might find himself being required to pick up the fields at a moment's notice, even when his cousin was doing something which made improper control dangerous, such as preparing to take a donation.
With such incentive, he took to practicing the solo drills on his own, any time there weren't any Simes around to be bothered by the shifts in his nager. There was plenty of opportunity; Arth had discovered that he required another five hundred donor profiles to prove some arcane statistical point. In addition, the graduate student had mentioned that he would be spending a great deal of time on a new phase of his research. It had something to do with the reactions of the general community, although Den wasn't sure he understood what.
The Clarion's coverage of the first school-based changeover class in Clear Springs had continued for the full three weeks, despite the heroic efforts of Save Our Kids. Reverend Sinth had managed to persuade a half dozen or so of his people to stage an hour-long demonstration in front of the school each morning, before they headed over to the Sime Center for their regular shift of donor harassment. This was no mean sacrifice, since the weather had turned cold and nasty.
The demonstrations at the school were intended primarily to ensure that Hank Fredricks would report continuing opposition to the classes. However, the newsman wasn't the only one who noticed the increasingly shrill tone of Save Our Kids' chants. The parents didn't appreciate being screamed at every morning when they were hurrying to drop their children off on their way to work, and they liked having their sons and daughters subjected to such abuse even less. The protesters' inability to limit their highly personal attacks to students who were actually taking the changeover classes didn't endear them to those falsely accused of being "Simelovers," and Sinth's insistence that the classes were dangerous to the students' health and morals didn't convince anyone, when each day's lesson was faithfully reported in the next morning's newspaper.
Some of the more moderate parents decided that changeover classes couldn't be all that bad, if only raving fanatics opposed them. As a result, the waiting list had "grown considerably," Principal Buchan reported with satisfaction, when he stopped by Den and Rital's classroom on the opening day of the second class.
"Good--" Den said "--because five of our new students have already established."
"I'll have my secretary notify the first five kids on the waiting list," the principal offered, waving three neatly typed pages of names. With a sly look, he continued, "It would probably be worth adding a second section, if you can find teachers for it."
"We'll see what we can do," Rital promised.
"If you can find someone within the next two weeks, we could start two sections with the next three-week activity cycle. I want every child whose parents will agree to have the chance to learn about changeover as soon as humanly possible. If I hadn't made my Jainy take your classes over at the library when I did..." His voice caught. "She phoned yesterday; she's doing well in her classes, and she sounds so grown up it's hard for me to believe. I'm so proud of her...but if I'd waited a bit longer to get her into a class, she'd be three months dead and buried by now."
"I understand," Den said.
The following day, the Sime Center got an early-morning call to pick up a changeover victim. The youngster wasn't one of their students, but she had seen Rital in the halls, and responded well to him. Her acceptance didn't extend to any of the other channels, though, which left Rital with a dilemma.
"I can't leave her, Den," he said softly, so as not to wake their dozing patient. "Not for the two hours it would take to drive across town and teach our class. Tyvi and Reyna are on Collectorium duty this morning, and Zir doesn't know anything about teaching. However, it won't matter too much if there isn't a channel for one class. I could send Gati with you, I suppose..."
"I can teach the class well enough by myself," Den said. "I'll just substitute tomorrow's lecture on the different Gen mutations for today's lesson on Gen safety around Simes, since you won't be there to demonstrate. However, I don't like leaving you without a Donor when you're trying to manage a changeover."
Rital zlinned his patient carefully. "I don't zlin any problems at the moment, and you should be back long before she hits Stage Four. However, if there's an emergency, I'll ask Seena to send Quess over. Tyvi really only requires a Donor for the borderline Simephobes, and they can wait if necessary."
Den hesitated, torn between his conflicting obligations to his channel and his students. However, Rital's solution really was the only one which would allow them to fulfill all of their responsibilities to the community--if nothing went seriously wrong. It was risky, but so was life.
It's Rital's call as Controller, the Donor realized, and if I want him to respect my judgment as a Donor, I'll have to return the favor.
"All right," Den conceded.
Rital grinned reassuringly. "Give my regrets to our students," he said. "And tell the five new ones that I'll let them know if they've already established tomorrow."
On his way out of the Sime Center, Den privately asked Seena to call the school and let him know if Rital requested Quess's aid, just in case. He felt a bit guilty going around Rital's back. But even a Farris Donor would have trouble providing adequate help to two channels in two separate parts of the building.
Satisfied with his precautions, he loaded his pamphlets and handouts in the staff car and headed for the school. The students were curious when he explained why Rital wasn't present, and interrogated him on the details. At least they seem to find the answers reassuring, the Donor reflected as he began his lecture on Gen anatomy.
Unfortunately, the children weren't the only ones who had noticed the channel's absence. Den was just starting to explain the differences between the GN and TN levels of selyn storage, and how they could vary with different mutation strains, when there was a commotion in the hall. Seconds later, the classroom door burst open.
"This obscenity is going to stop right now!" Cessly Lornstadt screamed as she rushed inside. Close behind her came four men and two women, the day's school-based complement of Save Our Kids troops. In what was obviously a predetermined action, the turmeric-haired man and an equally husky friend held Den at bay while the other five split up. Cessly and Len Dusam, who had almost won election as Clear Springs' mayor the previous year on an anti-Sime platform, descended on the teacher's desk. They snatched up all the undistributed handouts and dumped them on the floor. The posters of the Sime and Gen nervous systems which Den had pinned to the blackboard were unceremoniously ripped down and deposited on top of them. Florence Grieves, whose younger daughter had killed the elder in First Need after their parents refused her pleas to call the Sime Center, triumphantly pulled a large bottle of blue ink from her purse and poured it over the pile. At the back of the room, another man and woman were disposing of the booklets and pamphlets on the "propaganda table" in a similar fashion.
Den considered trying to interfere with the destruction, but like most in-Territory Gens, he had had no real experience of physical combat since his establishment. It simply wasn't practical to settle an argument with one's fists when every Sime within zlinning distance would immediately converge to break up the fight. The turmeric-haired man's clenched fists and eager grin showed Den that his guard had plenty of recent, practical experience of such conflicts. The Donor might have tried it anyway, since there weren't any Simes around to object, but there was too much chance that one of the children would get in the way.
Besides, Rital would have a fit.
By this time, the students had begun to recover from their initial shock. Screams and shouts of outrage added to the confusion, as the vandals whipped out handcuffs and chained themselves to the largest, most immovable objects they could find.
"You won't teach any more filth today, Simelover, so you might as well give up and go back to your slimy friends," Cessly announced with great satisfaction, as she checked the fit of the bracelet which imprisoned her right wrist. She had opened the window and secured herself to the brace which held it open. Den hoped that the cold draft would chill her thoroughly before she could be unfastened.
A loud chant of "Simelover go home!" nearly drowned out the cries of the students. By signs and shouting, Den managed to get the youngsters out of their desks and moving towards the door. The classroom was isolated by the currently empty locker rooms on either side, so at least no other classes had been disrupted. The Donor sent the most level-headed girl to the office to fetch Principal Buchan, and concentrated on calming the rest of his students.
By the time Buchan arrived, the children had gotten over their initial fright, and were beginning to view the situation as a grand adventure. Still, excited chattering was better than screams, so Den was inclined to allow it.
"Sosu Milnan, what's the problem?" Buchan asked as soon as he was close enough to be heard. Ten eager voices, none of them Den's, started to answer the question, and the principal held up a hand. "Quiet down," he admonished firmly.
The babble stopped, and the Donor was finally able to say, "It appears that some members of Save Our Kids got tired of trying to talk the school board into canceling the changeover classes and decided to take matters into their own hands." He gestured towards the closed door, through which the strains of a hymn could clearly be heard.
Buchan opened the door and glanced in. The vandals broke off their singing and began to yell insults, but he ignored them. "I see what you mean," he said calmly, shutting the door again. "Well, the police will get them out of there soon enough, though it looks like your teaching materials are beyond salvage."
"There are more back at the Sime Center," Den reassured him.
"That's the spirit," Buchan said, clapping the Donor on the shoulder in encouragement. "Don't hand them the victory by giving up. Now, if you'll keep your students out of trouble for a few more minutes, I'll get the police out here to arrest our troublemakers."
The police arrived fairly promptly, along with a reporter from the Clarion. However, they had to send for a locksmith to get the handcuffed demonstrators unfastened. In the meantime, the police photographers carefully documented the destruction. The officer in charge asked Den to stay at the school until his statement could be taken, "So we won't have to arrange for an officer to make a special trip out to the Sime Center."
Den was all in favor of a stronger police presence at the Sime Center; at the very least, it might make Save Our Kids think twice before clobbering donors with their signs. However, the sight of a police vehicle parked in the Sime Center's parking lot might give the public the wrong impression. A quick phone call to Seena at the Sime Center was enough to assure him that Rital wasn't in trouble, so the Donor reluctantly agreed to stay.
He spent the next half hour pacing the school's lobby, too angry at the interruption of his class to sit down. His students had been dismissed to a study hall for the rest of the hour, but the other classes were still in session. Den caught snatches of a lecture from the open door closest to the lobby. It seemed to be a class on woodcarving; or at least, the subject under discussion was the ease with which soft woods like pine could be carved, as opposed to hardwoods like oak or walnut.
By the time Cessly and her friends had been unchained and Den had given his statement, the Donor was frantic to return to the Sime Center before Rital's patient reached breakout. Still, Den forced himself to be polite when Buchan sought him out to apologize.
"I'll see to it that this doesn't happen again--" the principal promised as the smirking vandals were led away under arrest "--and they will be prosecuted for this. Demonstrating on the sidewalk is one thing; coming into the school to disrupt a class is an entirely different matter."
"Actually--" Den said "--on my side of the border, their treatment of donors in front of the Sime Center would be considered the more serious crime."
"Really?" Buchan asked curiously. "Why is that?"
The Donor shrugged. "Simes have a tendency to get a bit paranoid about any physical threat to a Gen, particularly one who donates. It's a survival instinct: a sick or injured Gen can't provide selyn. One learns to tolerate a certain amount of overprotectiveness."
Den was relieved to discover that Rital and the changeover victim were unharmed by his extended absence. He was less pleased with the Clarion's front-page coverage of the incident. VANDALS INVADE SCHOOL, STOP CHANGEOVER CLASS the headline announced. Underneath was a dramatic photo of Cessly Lornstadt grinning triumphantly at the destruction she and her friends had caused. The editorial inside demanded that the vandals be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as an example to all who would use violence to overrule the democratically elected school board.
Unfortunately, Den had neglected to post the classroom as Sime Territory on the day of the invasion, since Rital had not been present to remove his retainers. Thus, the crime had to be prosecuted in the local courts. The "fullest extent" of out-Territory law turned out to be a minor disturbing the peace charge, punishable by a token fine. Since the Tecton published Den's teaching materials and distributed them free of charge, Judge Lindsey ruled that their market value could not be fairly determined, and refused to make Cessly and her friends compensate the Donor for their loss. The vandals showed no hint of remorse, and Den doubted that they would be deterred from trying such disruption again.
Certainly Reverend Sinth seemed to feel that the free publicity was well worth the cost of the venture. "We will continue to use whatever means are necessary to stop the Sime takeover of our community," he told a reporter from the Clarion. "If that means we must break the city laws, we will gladly pay that price in God's service, for we follow His laws first."
"Of course, that's easy for him to say," Annie Lifton remarked with a sniff when she dropped by the Collectorium for her monthly donation. "None of the money to pay those lawyers and fines came out of his own pocket, after all--or even Save Our Kids' account. I'll bet he sends out a fundraising letter within the week, anyway, asking for contributions to offset his nonexistent expenses in his followers' defense. He'll rake in a bundle, too."
The letters to the editor which the Clarion printed over the next week showed that a good portion of the newspaper's readers agreed with Principal Buchan about the relative seriousness of the crime. Even Coach Farrow wrote to express his displeasure with Cessly and her partners in crime. "How can our children possibly prepare for serious competition when they are constantly being bombarded with distracting political rhetoric by middle-aged hoodlums?" his letter demanded. "It is time for the law to reestablish order in our schools."
The result was an emerging consensus that Sinth and his followers were not reasonable people. Security at the school was increased to prevent another invasion, although Den privately thought that Rital's unshielded tentacles were a far better deterrent. In spite of the trouble, the waiting list for changeover classes grew to four pages, then five.
"It looks like we were both wronging the parents of Clear Springs last fall," an amused Den remarked to Rital over breakfast one morning, as he finished reading the editorials. "They may be obsessed beyond all reason with the athletic program, but they do insist that the academic part of the curriculum be orderly, even if it isn't very rigorous. Judging by today's letters page, ripping up a few posters in a classroom is a major crime, but shutting off their city's selyn supply by assaulting donors is just legitimate political expression." He grinned. "Maybe you ought to go on strike again, and refuse to refill the batteries at the power plant until they clear Save Our Kids off our front sidewalk. It worked pretty well, that time they passed that ordinance to confine us to the Center's property."
"Look at the bright side," Rital said, appropriating the front page. "At least they're beginning to view changeover classes as a legitimate part of a child's education."
"The Sime Center as part of an education," Den murmured to himself, gazing off into space. "Of course!"
"Of course what?" Rital asked, putting his toast down and zlinning his cousin suspiciously. "You've just found a new way to make trouble, haven't you?"
"Me?" Den asked with patently false innocence. "Seriously, I don't think this will cause too much trouble, or at least, no more than we already have," the Donor reassured his cousin. "You're right, many parents are willing to support the Sime Center for their children's sake. We've had lots of parents bring their adolescent kids in for establishment screening, and the waiting list for our changeover classes speaks for itself. A lot of the parents who come to us because of their adolescent children have become donors--look at Principal Buchan, and Mayor Kroag. Ever since Miz Dilson asked us for changeover and establishment books for younger children, I've been trying to think of a way to reach their parents. Think about what we could do if parents and kids were both comfortable with the Sime Center long before they had to worry about the danger of changeover."
"And you think you've found a way to do that?"
"Yes." Den leaned forward eagerly. "What about a Childrens' Day at the Collectorium? We could give out pamphlets and balloons, run a brief tour of the Center, and any parents who want to donate can let their kids watch to see what it's like. That way they'll know it isn't unpleasant."
"A brilliant idea," Rital drawled.
Stung by the channel's sarcasm, the Donor gave his cousin a wounded look. "It worked for Jain," he pointed out.
"Oh, it might work well enough for the children of our more experienced donors--" Rital conceded "--but what if some devoted parent like Principal Buchan underestimates his or her Simephobia and panics?" His voice assumed the syrupy tone of a well-known children's radio announcer. "Look, kids, see how the nice channel terrifies your mommy and daddy. Watch them flinch away from the tentacles. Doesn't that make you want to donate yourself, when you get big?"
"At least they'll know it can be survived!" Den snapped, annoyed at his cousin's attitude. "That's a step in the right direction. Besides, if we make sure that the parents see a tentacle or two when they arrive, the worst of the Simephobes will most likely change their minds and not volunteer to donate."
Since it was standard policy for Rital and the other channels to keep their tentacles carefully sheathed in the Collectorium's waiting room to prevent this very occurrence, the channel conceded the point with a wave of a tentacle. However, a moment later, he thought of a new objection. "Our collecting rooms aren't set up for observers."
Den shrugged. "A child's nager won't cause any problems," he pointed out. "With a Donor present, you'll hardly be able to zlin them."
"Well, it might work--" Rital admitted reluctantly "--though Monruss won't like us departing so radically from regular procedures."
"Shen Monruss," Den said, snapping his nager rudely. "He's sent us out here to do an impossible job, and the Office for Interterritorial Affairs made it quite clear last spring that any hope we might have for future advancement depends on our success. Under the circumstances, we have nothing to lose by trying something new."
The channel shook his head in mock despair. "I don't know why I let you talk me into these things."
"Just look at it this way," Den said with a triumphant grin. "When those kids establish and start donating, they just might be a bit easier to handle than their parents."
Den advertised his Children's Day in the Clarion, and asked Principal Buchan and his counterpart at the elementary school to put a brief notice in the "Community Events for Children" section of the newsletter they sent to all parents. With the help of several volunteers from OLD SOKS, he was also able to hand out nearly fifty fliers at the weekly Farmer's Market.
Reverend Sinth responded by posting over two hundred fliers of his own, covering all the utility poles, trees, and bulletin boards in Clear Springs with angry denunciations of this PLOT to SEDUCE your children into EVIL!
The fliers also appeared in several nearby towns, with an unexpected result. Den was in the library one afternoon, doing his share of the translating for Arth, when Seena poked her head in the door.
"Were you looking for one of the files in our current stack?" the Donor asked.
Seena shook her head. "No. One of the donors out in the waiting room is insisting that you talk to her about that open house next week."
"Tell her I'll be out in a few minutes." Den finished reading off the information in the current file, then excused himself. He detoured by the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face, in hopes of overcoming the dulling aftereffects of too little sleep. Rital's turnover had been unexpectedly rough, and the Donor had been up much of the previous night attending his cousin.
When he entered the waiting room, a half dozen Gens looked up, two of them starting nervously. When they saw that he wasn't a channel, all but one of them went back to reading, chatting, or staring blankly at the opposite wall. The exception, a familiar silver-haired woman, closed the book she was reading and rose to greet Den.
"Sosu Milnan, it was good of you to see me so promptly," she said cordially, extending a hand.
Den shook it smoothly.
"You probably don't remember me," the woman continued. "I'm Flora Mills, with the Berrysville congregation of Rational Deists. I attended the talk you gave at the Clear Springs Meeting Hall recently."
"Of course," Den said.
"I still think that small communities like Berrysville are being shortchanged by your policy of only placing Sime Centers in large cities."
"Miz Mills--" the Donor said as patiently as he could "--I believe I explained at the time that in order to keep our channels healthy, there have to be a certain minimum number of donors to support each Sime Center. At present, Clear Springs is one of a very few towns this side of Sanger which meets those specifications."
"I realize that Berrysville is too small for a permanent Sime Center--" she agreed "--but how about a temporary one?"
"A what?" Den asked.
"Quite frankly, Sosu Milnan, it's a nuisance to have to come all the way to Clear Springs to donate. If my daughter and her family didn't live here, I probably wouldn't bother. I know a number of Berrysville residents who don't bother, even though they would be glad to donate if they could do it locally. There are others who would like information on changeover, or your proof of establishment certificates for their Gen children. There are certainly enough interested people to keep a channel busy for, say, one afternoon each month." She looked him in the eye, daring him to contradict her.
"I'm glad to hear that," the Donor said. "However the School Board in Berrysville didn't express any interest in changeover classes, when I talked to them last spring, although at least they weren't as hostile as their counterparts in Clearston. Still, I doubt the Berrysville officials would agree to let us use city property for such a purpose. It would cause too much controversy."
"That's true enough," Flora agreed, with a ladylike sniff to express her contempt for such cowardice. "And I should know; my boy Jon is our current Mayor. Fortunately, we Rational Deists don't have to worry about the opinion of the general public and its effect on the probability of reelection. That leaves us free to follow our own consciences. At our last meeting, our congregation's governing board voted to host a temporary Sime Center once a month at our Berrysville Meeting Hall, if the Tecton would agree to send out a channel. How about next week?"
"Umm," Den stammered, taken aback by such open enthusiasm for the Tecton's goals in an out-Territory Gen. "Such decisions really must be made by the Controller..."
"Well, let's go talk to him, then," she said, not at all dismayed.
It was quite obvious from her stance that Flora Mills had no intention of leaving until she had a satisfactory answer, and the discussion had already attracted the attention of the waiting donors. To avoid a public scene, the Donor gave in gracefully and escorted her to his cousin's office. After all, he knew from personal experience just how skeptically his cousin viewed crazy stunts which not even the most charitable Controller could view as being in accord with standard procedure.
Unfortunately, the Donor had failed to take into account the fact that most times, he eventually succeeded to getting Rital to go along with his unconventional actions. The channel was past the worst instability of turnover, but he was still no match for such a determined Gen, even if she was only a general class donor.
To Den's surprise, considering the risks involved for a channel in small out-Territory towns, his cousin didn't even really try to resist. Before she left, Flora Mills had extracted a firm commitment for at least one channel and Donor to visit Berrysville the following week.
The more Den thought about Rital's promise to send a channel to Berrysville, the more he regretted not vetoing it. The regular visits to refill the batteries in the Clear Springs power plant, a journey of about a mile across town, were hard enough on the Center's channels. Berrysville was eight miles away, and its citizens were much less cosmopolitan. In a small community where all outsiders were viewed with suspicion, there could be real trouble when they learned that a Sime was in town.
To make matters worse, Rital was openly enthusiastic about the chance to reach such a large group of previously untapped donors. His only concession to common sense--if it could be called that--was his announcement that he would be going to Berrysville personally, since it would be unfair to ask another channel to take the risk. Saving the most dangerous and difficult work for the best available channel was a tradition as old as channeling, but that didn't make Den any happier about it. His cousin was growing increasingly unstable as he slipped deeper in to need, and the Donor's efforts to help had been less effective than he liked. There was an underlying core of resistance in the channel that he couldn't seem to overcome. I thought we'd settled our differences.
Still, on the appointed morning, Den found himself on the way to Berrysville in the Center's larger van, trying to protect Rital from the worst of the nausea which traveling in retainers inflicted upon any Sime. To make matters worse, it was a bitterly cold, miserable winter day, and sudden gusts of wind kept making the van sway unpredictably, adding to the channel's discomfort. Six of the Gen staff members were crowded in with them, all steady GN-1s above midfield. They wouldn't completely make up for the lack of properly insulated facilities, but they might be able to calm the ambient nager a bit.
The Berrysville Rational Deist Meeting Hall was a bit smaller than its counterpart in Clear Springs, but at least it was built of selyn-insulating stone. There's not much soundproofing, though, Den concluded as the sound of massed voices rang clearly from the back of the building. Apparently, the choir was rehearsing a hymn. After so many months spent enduring Sinth's demonstrations, Den considered himself a reluctant expert on out-Territory religious music. However, this song didn't follow the usual themes:
"My thoughts, they are free, no one can betray them.
They're secret to me, unless I should say them.
They never will cower before mortal power.
This truth I decree: my thoughts they are free!"
That song's composer obviously never lived in-Territory, the Donor concluded with a wry smile. While Simes couldn't read thoughts, the ability to zlin a person's emotions was actually more useful, since people tended to make decisions based on their feelings, not their thoughts.
The Sime Center contingent had arrived an hour early, to give Rital a chance to recover from the journey before he had to start working. However, Flora Mills was already busy, directing a band of volunteers as they industriously pulled folding chairs from a storage closet and assembled them in the sanctuary. Den recognized a few of the volunteers as regular donors, but most were strangers.
Flora bustled over to greet them. "It's good of you to come so early," she said. "I thought we'd use the main room here as a waiting area. We've set up a table for light refreshments, and that horrible moaning is the coffee urn. It'll quiet down once the water's hot. We're also mulling cider for the children. On a day like this, everyone will want something warming to drink." She cast a sharp eye on the heavy box that Ref was carrying. "Is that the pamphlets on changeover?" she asked.
"Yes, along with some others describing the various services the Sime Center offers," Den said. "Where would you like us to put them?"
"Why not over by the refreshments?" Flora suggested. "That way, everybody will see them. Bery, Cadey," she flagged down two of her helpers. "Bring another table out here, would you?" When they had left on their errand, she turned to Rital. "Hajene Madz, I thought you might want to work in our library," She led the way to a door which opened directly off the sanctuary.
"This will do nicely," the channel said.
Looking around at the cheerful little room, Den had to agree. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined the walls, filled to overflowing with well-thumbed volumes on an eclectic variety of subjects. There was a fireplace with an elaborate mantelpiece, adorned with a row of pottery vases. The imaginative design flaws and unusual choices of color proclaimed the collection the work of children. A cheerful fire crackled in the grate, filling the room with a comfortable warmth.
"There's only enough space to store an hour's supply of firewood--" Flora explained, pointing to the stack of neatly chopped branches beside the hearth "--but I'll have someone bring you more after a while. There's certainly plenty out back; Mr. Chandler always brings us a load when he prunes his walnut orchard."
The library was furnished with a small desk, several upholstered chairs, and best of all, a large, comfortable-looking couch. It wasn't quite as good as a proper transfer lounge, but it might help the donors relax a little bit if they could lie down. Best of all, the book-lined concrete walls would provide adequate insulation from the nagers--and the sounds--in the main room.
Den was particularly glad of the last. The portable selyn-insulating screens he had brought along could block the ambient nager well enough, but they provided no soundproofing at all. Unlike Simes, out-Territory Gens tended to associate privacy with freedom from eavesdroppers, not freedom from imposing nagers. Not to mention how any exclamation of alarm overheard from behind such a screen would have spooked any nervous new Gens waiting their turn to donate.
That is, assuming anyone volunteered to donate.
Den left Rital to rearrange the library to his satisfaction and went to oversee the posting of the required Sime Territory signs. The sooner he could get the channel out of retainers, the better.
While Den and Rital had been inspecting the library, several more volunteers had arrived to help Flora, including Doctor Lennard, the young physician who had interrogated Den on in-Territory healing techniques after his lecture at the Clear Springs Meeting Hall. Flora had assigned the doctor the task of helping with the propaganda table, a job which he would have found easier if he hadn't insisted on reading each pamphlet he handled, sipping absently at a cup of black coffee all the while. Fortunately, Gati and Rev were able to work around their "helper," efficiently unpacking Rev's box. The table they had been provided was already half covered with pamphlets and forms.
"Have you reached the border signs yet?" Den asked them.
"I set them over there with the other forms," Gati answered, pointing with a stack of The Facts About Donation and Donating pamphlets.
Den sorted through the proof of establishment certificates, donation consent slips, and medical history forms until he found the signs. As he went to retrieve a hammer and some nails from the Center's van, he noticed another van parked on the street nearby. Cessly Lornstadt was peering through the window, along with several other all-too-familiar faces. The Save Our Kids volunteers were obviously enjoying a few more minutes out of the wind before they occupied the sidewalk.
After he had posted the signs which allowed Rital to legally remove his retainers, the Donor warned Flora Mills about the demonstrators. "We expected them," she said. "Don't worry about it."
And indeed, the choir rehearsal broke off just as the demonstrators started their first chant. A good two dozen of the singers, including the choir director, raided Flora's refreshment table for hot drinks, then reassembled on the sidewalk to prevent the demonstrators from misbehaving.
Den noted with indignation that Cessly Lornstadt had brought her two young children along, and was directing the shivering and reluctant youngsters to hold up a heavy banner reading Protect the Children. As far as the Donor was concerned, any parent who would make a child tramp up and down on the sidewalk on such a cold, windy day, simply to make a political statement, was guilty of child abuse. At least the choir members weren't following OLD SOKS' tradition of singing obscene drinking ballads to drown out their opponents' chanting. In deference to their location, and at the insistence of the choir director, the group was continuing their rehearsal as they waited for people to begin arriving:
"I think what I wish; it's all part of knowing
The world as it is, and where it is going.
My thoughts give me traction to take proper action.
It's simple, you see: my thoughts they are free!"
Den's fears that no one would wish to donate proved unfounded. The first volunteer was Doctor Lennard, who provided Rital with an unexpected challenge. It wasn't that the Gen was upset or repelled by his first sight of tentacles. Quite the opposite. He was intent on examining them to determine exactly how they worked. It was all the channel could do to get him to stop asking questions and shut up long enough for a demonstration.
Despite Save Our Kids and the bad weather, the mobile Sime Center was a resounding success. By the end of the afternoon, most of the pamphlets had disappeared into pockets and purses--and Doctor Lennard had appropriated the rest to place in his office's waiting room. All of the establishment certificates had been presented to relieved youngsters, and Den had the names and addresses of three more Gens who would have to receive theirs by mail. In all, seventeen Gens had donated, including a couple who had asked that their four children be allowed to watch. Two of the kids had responded to Rital's patient coaxing and actually touched one of his handling tentacles. Most interesting of all, one man had brought his wife in so that Rital could zlin whether her recent surgery had removed all of her breast cancer.
"Doctor Lennard said you'd be able to tell us, Hajene," the man said, as he eyed the channel's tentacles nervously. "I'm not sure it's a good idea, myself..."
"But I'm not going to go through another round of chemotherapy unless it's absolutely necessary," his wife concluded firmly.
Fortunately, Rital was able to give them good news, after he got over his understandable horror at the way she had been sliced up.
They stayed an hour later than they had planned, and Den and the other Gens were too exhausted to talk much during the drive back to Clear Springs. Rital also seemed more stressed by the day's work than a channel of his ability ought to be, even taking the makeshift facilities and his approaching need into account, and Den's attempts to provide support seemed less effective than they should have been.
The Donor wondered if his field work was still off, but Rital swore that he had progressed amazingly, and Tyvi had not been able to zlin the small deviations which could cause trouble for a more sensitive channel like Rital. Still, as their transfer date approached, Rital continued to resist his Donor's efforts, suppressing his need far more than was required to protect his clients. Which is just as much of a recipe for disaster as his carelessness in guarding his tongue.
Den read over Rital's file carefully, scouring the records of the past two months for unusual traumas, but he found nothing. He was even worried enough to consult with Quess, but the older Donor was unable to guess what the problem might be.
On their transfer day, Den insisted that Rital join him in the heavily insulated transfer room an hour early. He tried for half an hour to raise the channel's intil factor to the proper level, with only moderate success. He thought he had managed to keep his growing concern out of his nager, but then his cousin reached over to pat his hand reassuringly.
"You don't have to be nervous, Den," the channel said, in the particularly soothing tone he reserved for the most skittish new donors. "I won't let myself get distracted and burn you again, but if it will make you feel better, we can ask Tyvi and Quess to monitor our transfer."
"So that's why you've been fighting me!" Den exclaimed, laughing in relief. "I thought we'd settled that weeks ago. You idiot, I'm not afraid that you'll hurt me! I've been worried sick that the way you've been holding back would spoil our transfer. It's been three months since I was really post, and I'm not willing to settle for less."
Zlinning the sincerity of his cousin's words, Rital finally relaxed enough to let the Donor coax his need to the surface. Still, he refused to let the transfer set its own pace, firming keeping himself to a speed just below their usual.
Den wanted to howl with frustration as the selyn flow peaked and began to ebb without tapping his new capacity. I earned it the hard way, and now he's too timid to let either of us enjoy it! The Donor retained just enough presence of mind to keep himself from grabbing control of the fields and forcing Rital to a more reasonable speed. That would destroy what little confidence the channel still had in his own control.
It had been hard enough to be stuck giving transfer to lower-rated channels for so long. It was much worse to go unfulfilled yet again, without even the vicarious pleasure of knowing that his partner had been fully satisfied. Gati's not going to speak to me for a week.
Settling our misunderstandings was only the first step, Den realized as he helped his cousin through the inadequate postsyndrome to which the channel's stubbornness had condemned them both. I've still got to rebuild Rital's confidence--in himself, as well as in me. And that was likely to be a long, slow process, which no amount of chocolate could hasten.
end of chapter
proceed to chapter 11